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A National Principal Survey on How Social 
and Emotional Learning Can Prepare 
Children and Transform Schools 


Civic Enterprises 

with Hart Research Associates 


A Report for CASEL 

By Jennifer L. DePaoli, Matthew N. Atwell, 
and John Bridgeland 


\ 





Ready to Lead 

A National Principal Survey on 

How Social and Emotional Learning Can 

Prepare Children and Transform Schools 


A Report for CASEL 


By Jennifer L. DePaoli, 
Matthew N. Atwell, 
and John Bridgeland 


Civic Enterprises with Hart Research Associates 


Civic 

NTERPRISES 

Civic Enterprises is a social enterprise firm that works with corporations, nonprofits, foundations, 
universities and governments to develop innovative initiatives and public policies in the fields of 
education, national service, civic engagement, conservation, public health and more. We work with 
organizations that seek to challenge the status quo and grow their impact for the greater good. 
Working closely with clients to determine what they need to better engage with their stakeholders 
and serve their constituents, we specialize in research and policy development, strategy and coali¬ 
tion building, state and federal policy analysis, and strategic communications. For more information 
about Civic Enterprises, please visit their website at www.civicenterprises.net 


HART 

- RESEARCH 

ASSOCIATES 

Hart Research Associates is one of the leading research firms in the United States and has been 
at the cutting edge of change in public opinion since our founding in 1971. During that time, we 
have conducted more than 8,000 public opinion surveys and 7,500 focus groups and in-depth 
interviews, talking with more than five million individuals across the United States and beyond. In 
addition to conducting research among everyday Americans, voters, and consumers, we routinely 
interview elite audiences. These include C-suite decision-makers, senior government officials, and 
thought leaders across a full range of disciplines, both nationally and abroad. For more information 
about Hart Research, please visit their website at www.hartresearch.com 



Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is the nation’s leading 
organization advancing and promoting integrated Pre-K to 12 academic, social, and emotional 
learning for all students. Our mission is to make social and emotional learning an integral part of 
education from preschool through high school. Through research, practice, and policy, CASEL 
collaborates to ensure all students become knowledgeable, responsible, caring, and contributing 
members of society. Learn more about our work at www.casel.org 





Table of Contents 


Open Letter .1 

Executive Summary .2 

Introduction .8 

What is Social and Emotional Learning? .11 

Survey Findings 1: Attitudes about SEL .13 

Snapshot: Anchorage School District - Building on Grassroots SEL.17 

Survey Findings 2: SEL Implementation .19 

Snapshot: Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools - 

Meeting Schools Where They Are to Advance SEL.27 

Survey Findings 3: The Path to Increased SEL .28 

Snapshot: Austin Independent School District - Providing Proof to Get Results.31 

Survey Findings 4: Assessing SEL .32 

Snapshot: Washoe County School District - Factoring SEL into Student Success.39 

Key Findings and Recommendations .41 

Conclusion .45 

Acknowledgements .46 

Appendix I: Methodology .47 

Appendix II: Findings from The Missing Piece: A National Teacher Survey on How 

Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower Children and Transform Schools .48 

Appendix III: CASEL’s Collaborating Districts Initiative .49 

Appendix IV: Additional Graphs and Tables .50 


References 


51 























THE ASPF 4STITUTE 



NATIONAL COMMISSION 
U > ON SOCIAL, emotional, & 
■ ACADEMIC DEVELOPMENT 


ACADEMIC DEVELOPMENT 




Open Letter to the American People 


T he idea of integrating the social, emotional, and academic dimensions of learning - and the promise 
of improving our children’s outcomes and unleashing the power of schools and communities as 
spaces that nurture their full development - has galvanized the educational community’s interest with 
an enthusiasm rarely seen in the history of American education. 

It is our hope, as the Co-Chairs of the Aspen institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic 
Development , that this report will help America better understand how social and emotional development 
serves as a foundation for student learning. We also hope to connect readers to the perspectives of principals 
and administrators who engage in the day-to-day rewarding and challenging work of educating our children. 

Building from the breakthrough report, The Missing Piece, which captured the voice of teachers across 
America, Civic Enterprises has now turned to principals and other administrators for their insights. In short, 
these pioneering school leaders of today are strongly focused on a missing piece of American education: how 
to support the social and emotional development of their students. Educators know that social and emotional 
development improves student behavior, classroom management, school climate, and even student health. 
They also know that social and emotional learning improves grades and standardized test scores, boosts 
graduation rates and postsecondary completion rates, and leads to better employment outcomes. Given 
these measurable benefits, there is great urgency to integrate social and emotional learning frameworks. 

This report illustrates the motivation behind these school leaders’ commitment: they realize that developing the 
whole student is the key to creating schools that are safe and challenging; is fundamental to shaping students 
who are supported and inspired; is critical to ensuring that teachers can be effective and fulfilled; and is the 
foundation of communities where citizenship, purpose, employment, and stability are possible for every child. 
This report tells another story, too: although interest in social and emotional learning is overwhelmingly high, 
principals and administrators are hungry for the expertise necessary to adopt new strategies. In some ways, 
there is a tension in the data: while the vast majority of leaders believe that social and emotional development 
is essential to education, the pathway to change is not always clear; moreover, the time and training to make 
the necessary changes are in short supply. These experts tell us that there is a lot of will, but not as much clarity 
and support, along the way. 

We believe, as our fellow Co-Chair Linda Darling-Hammond wrote, that “the survival of the human race depends 
at least as much on the cultivation of social and emotional intelligence as it does on the development of 
technical knowledge and skills.” We can - and should - integrate academic learning with the social, emotional 
and cognitive dimensions of healthy human development, as well as retain high standards for all our children. 
As the following report so compellingly illustrates, our school leaders advise that we have no time to waste. 





Dr. Timothy P. Shriver 

Co-Chair 


Governor John Engler 

Co-Chair 


Dr. Linda Darling Hammond 

Co-Chair 


Ready to Lead 1 






T he central message of this report is that principals across the United States understand how fundamen¬ 
tal social and emotional learning (SEL) is to the development of students and their success in and out 
of school, but they need more guidance, training, and support to make solid and effective school-wide 
implementation a reality. Principals understand that SEL competencies are teachable, believe they should be 
developed in all students, and know that young people equipped with SEL skills will become better students 
now and better adults in the future. In today’s environment of increasingly demanding jobs and the fraying of 
American communities, nothing could be more important than to foster, teach, and promote the competencies 
of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. 
Some call it empathy, discipline, character, collaborative problem solving, or other names - but regardless of 
the name, they are the attitudes and skills that provide the glue of a functioning society, robust economy, and 
vibrant democracy. 

Most principals see how SEL boosts student academic achievement, but they want more evidence of those 
impacts to strengthen the case for action. Although support among principals for embedding SEL in the cul¬ 
ture and classrooms of schools is high, implementation varies widely across schools with about one in three 
principals implementing it school-wide, and only one in four meeting benchmarks for high-quality implemen¬ 
tation. Encouragingly, when principals and teachers attempting to implement SEL are well supported by their 
district leadership, they have better outcomes, and when state policymakers back district leaders, the results 
are even more pronounced. 

These and other findings come from a nationally representative survey of 884 Pre-K to 12 public school 
principals and interviews with 16 superintendents and 10 district-level research and evaluation specialists 
representing diverse school districts and with varying levels of experience in implementing SEL programming. 
Despite representing different grade spans, student populations, and geographic areas, the administrators in 
this report see the potential in social and emotional learning and provide key insights into the factors that can 
either slow SEL implementation at the school and district levels or help it grow and flourish. This strong support 
for SEL among our nation’s principals builds on similar levels of support from teachers across the United States, 
as reported in the 2013 report, The Missing Piece. While our educational leaders and practitioners see the value 
of SEL, they need support, resources, and tools to help them fully implement systemic SEL initiatives that can 
improve students’ SEL knowledge, skills, and attitudes, as well as their college, career, and life readiness. 


2 Ready to Lead 











Survey Findings 

Findings from the principal survey are presented in 
four major areas: (1) Attitudes about SEL, (2) SEL 
implementation, (3) The path to increased SEL, and 
(4) Assessing SEL. This report combines these find¬ 
ings with SEL research from the past two decades 
to offer an understanding of how SEL is perceived 
by school and district leaders and where we stand 
in terms of systemic, school-wide implementation 
and assessment. The results are supported by 
findings from the 2013 teacher survey, as well as 
case studies from school districts implementing 
social and emotional learning district-wide. Together, 
these insights and key findings helped produce 
recommendations to bring forth greater evidence 
and assessments and strategically advance sys¬ 
temic SEL in schools nationwide through enhanced 
research, training, and evaluation. 

Survey Findings 1 

Attitudes about SEL 

Among principals and district administrators, there 
is a high level of commitment to developing all 
students’ social and emotional competencies and 
a belief in the potential benefits that will follow from 
doing so. 

Principals Understand, Value, and Are 
Committed to Developing SEL Skills 

Principals strongly endorse social and emotional 
learning (see definition below), and most (83 percent) 
consider it to be very important for schools to 
promote the development of these competencies 
in their students. Almost ail principals believe that 
SEL is teachable in school (99 percent) and are 
committed to developing their students’ social and 
emotional skills (95 percent). 


Principals Believe SEL Should Be Taught 
to ALL Students 

Nearly all principals (98 percent) believe students 
from all types of backgrounds - both affluent and 
poor-would benefit from learning social and emo¬ 
tional skills in schools, and this belief holds true for 
a large majority of principals, regardless of whether 
they lead high- or low-poverty schools. 

Principals Believe in SEL’s Benefits, 
but Are Less Convinced of Its Impact 
on Academic Achievement 

Nearly ail principals believe that an increased focus 
on social and emotional learning would have a 
somewhat major or very major benefit on promoting 
a positive school climate (99 percent), helping stu¬ 
dents become good citizens as adults (98 percent), 
improving relationships between students and their 
teachers (98 percent), and decreasing bullying 
(96 percent). Similarly, most principals say that an 
increased focus on developing SEL skills would help 
prepare students for the workforce (98 percent) and 
believe it would have a positive impact on students 
moving successfully through K-12 and graduating 
from high school (97 percent). Principals also believe 
SEL can have a major benefit on students’ academic 
achievement in their coursework (97 percent) and 
preparing students to get to and through college 
(97 percent). 

These results show that principals see clear benefits 
of placing a larger focus on SEL, but it should be 
noted that fewer are fully convinced of a large-scale 
benefit on academics. Most principals (83 percent) 
see the largest benefits of SEL as improving school 
climate, citizenship, and relationships; 78 percent 
believe a greater focus on SEL would have a very 
major benefit on students becoming good citizens 


What is SEL? 

For the purposes of this report, SEL is defined as the process through which people 
acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand 
and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, 
establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. SEL focuses 
on knowledge, attitudes, and skills in five competency areas: self-awareness, self-manage¬ 
ment, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. 


Ready to Lead 3 



as adults, while approximately three in four say 
there would be a very major benefit on relationships 
between teachers and students (77 percent) and 
relationships among students (74 percent). However, 
while virtually all principals believe there would 
be at least a somewhat major benefit on students’ 
academic achievement and preparation for college 
(both 97 percent as noted above), there is a clear 
drop off in those that believe these benefits will be 
very major (61 percent and 58 percent, respectively). 
Superintendents and research and evaluation spe¬ 
cialists reinforced the need to better communicate 
research findings regarding SEL’s benefits, especially 
on raising academic achievement. 

Principals Believe SEL Can Positively Affect 
Students’ In-School Experience 

Nearly all principals believe it is definitely or probably 
true that teaching SEL skills in school will improve 
student behavior and reduce the need for discipline 
referrals (97 percent, including 56 percent definitely 
true) and help students take more responsibility for 
their own learning and development (97 percent, 
including 51 percent definitely true). They also feel it 
will either definitely or probably make learning more 
engaging and enjoyable for students (95 percent, 
including 46 percent definitely true). While most 
principals are inclined overall to believe SEL will 
improve students’ academic achievement (93 percent 
say this is definitely or probably true), less than half 
are entirely convinced of its effects on academic 
performance (40 percent definitely true) and improv¬ 
ing student attendance (40 percent definitely true). 

Survey Findings 2 
SEL Implementation 

Many principals have the recognition and under¬ 
standing of the importance of developing students’ 
social and emotional competencies, but imple¬ 
mentation of SEL programming - especially at a 
systemic level - has a long way to go. 

Support for SEL is High, but Implementation 
Varies Greatly 

A little more than one-third of principals (35 percent) 
reported having a plan for teaching SEL and were 
currently systematically implementing it school-wide, 


while just slightly more (38 percent) have a plan for 
SEL that has been partially implemented. School¬ 
wide implementation was more likely to be reported 
by elementary school principals (41 percent vs 31 
percent in middle school and 25 percent in high 
school) and those in urban schools (41 percent vs 
32 percent in suburban and 31 percent small town/ 
rural). Almost 70 percent of principals said they 
expect all teachers in their school to teach students 
social and emotional skills, though the percentage 
of principals who reported that this is fully realized 
in their school, either through integration into the 
academic curriculum or a separate curriculum, is 
much lower (25 percent). 

Few Schools Fully Meet SEL 
Implementation Benchmarks 

CASEL has developed a set of benchmarks to help 
guide school-wide SEL implementation, from devel¬ 
oping a clear vision statement to creating long-term 
plans for student support, professional development, 
program evaluation, and developmentally-appropri- 
ate learning standards. When principals were asked 
if their school was meeting those benchmarks, 
few were. Just 25 percent of principals could be 
considered high implementers of SEL based on the 
benchmarks, while 39 percent are moderate SEL 
implementers and 36 percent low SEL implement¬ 
ers. In school districts where district leaders place a 
high level of emphasis on SEL, principals are more 
likely to score high on SEL implementation. 

District Leadership Plays a Large Role 
in Driving SEL 

A large majority of principals (72 percent) said their 
school district places a fair amount or a great deal 
of emphasis on developing students’ SEL skills, but 
only 40 percent reported that their district leadership 
requires all schools to have a clear plan for teaching 
social and emotional skills. Principals were far more 
likely to report having a plan for SEL and systematic 
implementation in school districts where central 
office leadership places a great deal of emphasis 
on teaching SEL than in those where emphasis from 
district leaders is less. Superintendents bolstered 
these findings, saying that when district leaders 
are invested in SEL, buy-in is greater and systemic 
implementation is more extensive. 


4 Ready to Lead 


Schools that are Systemically Implementing 
SEL Involve More People, See More Success 

Most principals said they involve teachers in 
developing students’ SEL skills, but those in schools 
reporting high implementation of SEL are more likely 
to involve a more diverse group of in- and out-of¬ 
school stakeholders. In a self-report of how their 
schools are faring at developing students’ social and 
emotional competencies, 23 percent say they are 
very successful, while 48 percent say their efforts 
are fairly successful. High-implementing principals 
report greater overall success at developing 
students’ SEL skills than either moderate- or low- 
implementing principals. Principals considered high 
SEL implementers also report greater academic suc¬ 
cess and are more likely to believe SEL can improve 
school climate and students’ in-school experience. 

Survey Findings 3 

The Path to Increased SEL 

School and district leaders are receptive to a greater 
emphasis on social and emotional learning, but they 
still see several barriers to full implementation. They 
also identify strategies, including increased training, 
that can enhance implementation of effective SEL 
programming. 

Principals Want More SEL Training for Teachers, 
Access to Research-Based Strategies 

Sixty percent of principals pointed to a lack of 
teacher training to support students’ social and 
emotional development as a big challenge, and 
less than half (45 percent) feel that teachers in their 
schools are either very or fairly prepared to success¬ 
fully teach SEL. When asked to choose from a list 
provided, what would help ensure schools are suc¬ 
cessful at developing students’ social and emotional 
skills, more than half of principals (54 percent) chose 
additional professional development for teachers. 
Sharing research-based strategies about effective 
ways to promote students’ social and emotional skills 
also scored high (44 percent of principals). 

High Implementers of SEL are More Likely to 
Report Better Trained Teachers 

A key takeaway is that in districts that emphasize 
SEL and score high on SEL implementation, higher 
numbers of principals report that their teachers 


are able to successfully teach SEL. Seventy-eight 
percent of principals who said their district places a 
great deal of emphasis on SEL said that their teach¬ 
ers are well prepared to teach social and emotional 
skills, compared to just 21 percent of principals 
where emphasis on SEL is minimal. Similarly, 80 
percent of high-implementing principals - opposed 
to just 15 percent of low-implementing principals 
- report that their teachers are prepared to success¬ 
fully teach SEL. 

Lack of Time, Funding Also Seen as Barriers 

Nearly three-quarters of principals (71 percent) 
say that teachers “not having enough time” is a big 
challenge in implementing the teaching of social and 
emotional skills. A majority of principals also cited 
a lack of funding dedicated to SEL as a barrier to 
implementation. 

Survey Findings 4 
Assessing SEL 

Although school and district administrators are 
optimistic about measuring SEL skills and using the 
data that could come from it, many are unfamiliar with 
available measurement tools and how they and their 
staff can use them to guide planning and practice. 

Most Principals Believe SEL Skills Can 
Be Accurately Measured and Assessed 

Most principals (71 percent) believe it is definitely or 
probably true that students’ development and acqui¬ 
sition of SEL skills can be accurately measured and 
assessed. More than half of principals (58 percent) 
believe social and emotional learning should be part 
of students’ annual assessments. 

Few Administrators are Familiar with 
Current SEL Assessments, Understand 
What Measures Count in Assessing SEL 

Only 17 percent of principals are very or fairly famil¬ 
iar with current assessments for measuring students’ 
SEL skills, but as with other aspects of SEL, high- 
implementing principals report greater familiarity 
with SEL assessments. Principals’ knowledge of 
assessment is correlated with their level of imple¬ 
mentation. When asked about current methods 
schools are using to assess students’ SEL skills, 
most principals and superintendents pointed to 


Ready to Lead 5 


behavioral observations and analyzing disciplinary 
records. Variation in understanding what counts 
as a measure of SEL competencies also exists in 
research and evaluation specialists, who would 
presumably have the greatest understanding of 
assessing SEL. 

Few Principals are Assessing All Students’ 
SEL Development 

Only a quarter of principals (24 percent) are cur¬ 
rently assessing all students’ development of social 
and emotional skills. In high-implementing schools, 
however, the percentage assessing all students 
jumps up to 48 percent, indicating that schools 
that are focused on systemic implementation are 
more likely to see value in measuring the develop¬ 
ment of all students’ SEL competencies. Forty-two 
percent of principals report assessing only some 
students (based on criteria other than age or grade 
level), while 23 percent say they do not assess their 
students’ social and emotional skills at all. 

More Useful Assessments, Greater Training 
in Using SEL Data Needed 

Of the 77 percent of principals who are currently 
using SEL assessments, less than 40 percent said 
the assessments are very or fairly useful. Principals 
who report assessing all students are more likely 
than those who are assessing only some students to 
find their current assessment tools useful. Principals 
also see a great need for increased teacher training 
in using SEL assessment data. Sixteen percent of 
principals think their teachers have either a great 
deal or fair amount of knowledge on using SEL 
assessment data to improve instruction, compared 
to 61 percent who say their teachers have little to no 
knowledge. 

Principals See Many Uses for SEL Data; 

Hold Mixed Views on SEL Accountability 

Given the assumption of access to valid and reliable 
SEL assessment data, principals see a number of 
important uses for it, including identifying students 
needing intervention (86 percent), evaluating SEL 
program effectiveness (79 percent), sharing the data 
with parents (73 percent), and improving teacher 
instruction (72 percent). When asked specifically 
about accountability purposes, less than half (49 
percent) agreed that teachers should be held 


accountable for developing students’ SEL skills, and 
only a small percentage were strongly in favor (13 
percent). Even fewer principals (44 percent) believe 
schools should be held accountable for improving 
students’ SEL skills. 

Principals Support Inclusion of SEL in State 
Education Standards 

School leaders feel much more positively about 
the inclusion of social and emotional competencies 
in their state standards. Nearly three-quarters of 
principals (73 percent) say they believe the develop¬ 
ment of SEL skills should be explicitly stated in state 
education standards. 

Recommendations 

Based on our survey findings and the SEL evidence 
base, we recommend the following to help advance 
SEL implementation: 

Sustain Social, Emotional, and Academic 
Development through High-Impact Levers 

Enhance the “will” - Prioritize policies and 
funding to support SEL 

To help schools advance social and emotional 
learning and systemize SEL at ail levels of practice 
and policy, federal and state policymakers, as well 
as grantmakers in education, will need to prioritize 
policies and funding for SEL training, implementation, 
and assessment. Funding considerations should 
include resources, technical assistance, evaluation, 
and the creation of learning networks between 
districts and states. Funding streams for increased 
research will also be critical for expanding knowledge 
and creating lines for SEL advocacy. Policy action 
should include advancing new federal policies to 
promote SEL and alloting resources toward its 
growth in both Pre-K to 12 and higher education, 
in addition to adopting state SEL standards. 

Support state student learning standards 

State SEL standards can provide a vision for what 
school and district social and emotional learning 
programs should accomplish and developmental 
benchmarks to inform teachers and principals of 
what students should be working toward in every 
grade. State SEL standards can also serve as guid¬ 
ance for institutes of higher education by providing 


6 Ready to Lead 


the groundwork for integrating SEL into pre-service 
teacher training programs. Unlike academic stan¬ 
dards, which have served as a basis for high-stakes 
accountability systems, SEL standards should be 
used solely to improve teaching and learning and 
guide investments in SEL programming. 

Advance an SEL research agenda and communi¬ 
cate findings to practitioners and policymakers 

The SEL evidence base has been building for more 
than two decades, and current efforts, including 
the National Commission on Social, Emotional, 
and Academic Development and the SEL Assess¬ 
ment Working Group, have created centralized 
platforms for studying and distributing knowledge 
on SEL. Based on this study, we recommend 
further research in the following areas: the value 
of implementing systemic, school-wide SEL; the 
link between improving SEL skills and academic 
achievement; the impact of improved training on 
SEL implementation; the benefits of integrated and 
stand-alone SEL approaches; the value of SEL for 
diverse learners; and how data on SEL can be used 
effectively by teachers to improve instruction, by 
principals to improve school climate, and by districts 
to better prepare all youth for success in school, 
postsecondary, careers, and life. 

Strengthen SEL Training Among Teachers 
and Administrators 

Communicate the knowledge base on evidence- 
based SEL programming and effective training, 
implementation, and assessment 

It is critical that administrators and teachers have 
access to a knowledge base on effective SEL pro¬ 
gramming and training in how to effectively integrate 
SEL into academic instruction and school climate 
improvement initiatives. While this study makes 
clear that school and district leaders value the 
development of their students’ social and emotional 
competencies, they need a better understanding 
of how best to improve these skills in students and 
create a systematic plan for SEL implementation. 
School leaders and teachers also need exposure 
to best practices in SEL implementation, as well as 
valid and reliable tools to assess SEL programming 
and students’ development of social and emotional 
competencies. 


Build teacher knowledge through pre-service 
education and in-school professional development 

Both administrators and teachers agree that 
increased training in teaching SEL is necessary to 
achieve successful school-wide implementation. 
Integrating this training into pre-service teacher 
programs will help guarantee more teachers have 
the knowledge and skills to implement SEL from the 
start, while high-quality professional development 
can provide continuous training for both new and 
experienced teachers. 

Strengthen Assessment 

Continue to improve SEL assessment tools 
and training in how to use them 

Though administrators see the importance of 
assessing students’ SEL skills, they lack familiarity 
with the tools to do so. It is therefore critical that 
knowledge be shared on existing measures and that 
researchers, funders, and policymakers prioritize 
improving SEL assessments. This survey also makes 
it abundantly clear that one of the greatest areas of 
improvement in SEL lies in building understanding 
of how to appropriately use SEL assessments and 
the data they produce to increase all students’ 
social and emotional competencies and evaluate 
implementation of SEL programming. 


Ready to Lead 7 



A merican education is at a crossroads. On one hand, there are increasing levels of 
academic achievement, high school graduation, and postsecondary enrollment and 
attainment, while on the other, students are experiencing greater levels of stress, 
trauma, and instability. Children today live in a more complex, economically competitive, and 
globally connected world, and while academic skills have been appropriately emphasized, 
the social and emotional dimensions of human development have been left behind in both 
policy and practice. While it is imperative that students learn to read, write, and do math, it 
is equally important to master other skills, like self-control, empathy, teamwork, and problem 
solving to succeed in school and be prepared for life in a demanding 21st century world. 


Benefits of Social and 
Emotional Learning 

A significant and growing body of research makes 
it clear that a student’s success is dependent on 
factors other than academic skills, including social 
and emotional competence. This underscores 
the importance for schools to look beyond typical 
classroom instruction. School-based SEL programs 
have the ability to (a) enhance students’ social 
and emotional skills and classroom behavior; (b) 
improve attachment and attitudes toward school; (c) 
decrease rates of violence and aggression, disciplin¬ 
ary referrals, and substance use; and (d) improve 
academic performance. These positive findings 
appear to hold for children of diverse backgrounds 
from preschool through high school. 


Social and emotional learning (SEL) provides an 
opportunity for a powerful, student-centric approach 
to education with proven benefits to help children 
overcome the challenges they face. Social and 
emotional skills - such as self-awareness, self¬ 
management, social awareness, relationship skills, 
and responsible decision-making - are critical to 
being a good student and citizen (see page 11 for 
more information on the definition of SEL). 

Powerful evidence continues to emerge from adver¬ 
sity science, brain science, psychology, and social 
science that reinforce the importance of systemically 
embedding social and emotional development in 
schools (Durlak, Domitrovich, Weissberg, & Gullotta, 
2015). A 2011 meta-analysis found that students 
who receive high-quality SEL instruction have 


8 Ready to Lead 




achievement scores on average of 11 percentile 
points higher than students who did not receive 
SEL instruction (Duriak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, 

Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). Several individual 
studies reviewed for a 2017 meta-analysis found 
even greater long-term impacts of SEL, including 
decreased likelihood of mental health issues and 
dropping out of high school, and increased proba¬ 
bilities of college attendance and degree attainment 
(Taylor, Oberle, Duriak, & Weissberg, 2017). Surveys 
of employers found that they seek the very skills 
that social and emotional learning programs foster: 
problem-solving, communication, teamwork, and grit 
(Sigmar, Hynes, & Hill, 2012). Advances in neurosci¬ 
ence suggest that teaching social and emotional 
skills in kindergarten can have long-term academic 
benefits on students’ reading and vocabulary, 
including in high poverty schools, suggesting that 
SEL may assist in closing achievement gaps (Blair 
& Raver, 2014). In 2015, researchers at Columbia 
University concluded that for every dollar a school 
spends on social-emotional learning programs, 
it sees an eleven dollar return on its investment 
(Belfield et al., 2015). The research points to one 
fact: when schools promote students’ academic, 
social, and emotional learning, students will possess 
the basic competencies, work habits, and values for 
postsecondary education, meaningful careers, and 
engaged citizenship. 

Other studies demonstrate that students who receive 
high-quality SEL in the classroom display better aca¬ 
demic performance, improved attitudes and behav¬ 
iors, greater motivation to learn, deeper connection 
to school, and improved relationships with peers, as 
well as fewer delinquent acts, conduct referrals, and 
reduced emotional distress, including fewer reports 
of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social 
withdrawal (Sklad, Diekstra, Ritter, Ben, & Grav- 
esteijn, 2012; Wigelsworth, Qualter, & Humphrey, 
2017). These benefits are invaluable in a school 
setting where young students are navigating not 
only academic challenges but also the interpersonal 
relationship difficulties many face during adoles¬ 
cence. And according to the 2017 Annual PDK Poll 
of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 

8 in 10 Americans believe that how well schools 
do at developing students’ interpersonal skills, 
including being cooperative, respectful of others, 
and persistent at solving problems, is extremely or 


very important in school quality - confirming that the 
American public already understands the need for 
schools to focus on developing students’ social and 
emotional competencies in addition to academic 
knowledge and skills. 

In addition to this compelling evidence, the release 
of The Missing Piece: A National Survey on How 
Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower 
Children and Transform Schools in 2013 showed 
that teachers across the country recognize the 
need to intentionally integrate SEL into classrooms 
and curriculums (Bridgeland, Bruce, & Hariharan, 
2013). Of the more than 600 educators surveyed, 93 
percent responded that it was important for schools 
to promote the development of social and emotional 
skills, while 95 percent of respondents believe that 
these skills are teachable (for more on The Missing 
Piece, please see Appendix II). 

About this Report 

For this report, we wanted to hear from the school 
and district leaders that are instrumental in success¬ 
ful systemic implementation of SEL. Principals serve 
a central role in establishing a positive learning envi¬ 
ronment and creating the conditions to raise student 
achievement. While teachers have long been known 
to have the greatest in-school impact on student 
achievement, principals are right behind them as 
the second most important in-school factor associ¬ 
ated with achievement (Leithwood, Seashore Louis, 
Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004; Seashore Louis, 
Leithwood, Wahlstrom, & Andseron, 2010). They also 
play a critical role in establishing a climate where 
SEL is valued and providing the support needed 
to successfully implement it school-wide. Elias et 
al. (2006) identified the “transformational leader¬ 
ship” that is essential to effective SEL integration, 
stating that “principals have special roles in setting 
the agenda for leadership and inspiring others to 
share and elaborate in their vision” (p. 13). Though 
research on the link between principal leadership 
and SEL program implementation is limited, Kam et 
al. (2003) did find that significant program effects 
were dependent on both high levels of principal 
support and high-quality classroom implementation, 
further underscoring the importance of their role. 

The findings presented here were collected from 
a nationally representative online survey of 884 


Ready to Lead 9 


K-12 principals and individual interviews with 16 
superintendents and 10 district-level research and 
evaluation specialists representing diverse school 
districts across the country (For a detailed summary 
of the principals, superintendents, and research and 
evaluation specialists that participated in this report, 
please see Appendix I: Methodology). The results of 
the principal survey are the primary focus of this report, 
while the responses from the superintendent and 
research and evaluation specialist interviews serve 
to provide context from district-level administrators. 

The survey was informed by the prior instrument 
used in the 2013 survey of teachers for The Miss¬ 
ing Piece report, allowing for cross-comparison of 
responses, as well as new questions to account for 
the differing roles administrators play in implement¬ 
ing SEL. The survey and interviews were aimed at 
answering the following key questions: 

i Flow is social and emotional learning viewed 
1 ■ and understood by school- and district-level 
administrators? 

To what extent is social and emotional learning 
being systemically implemented in schools? 

O What factors play the greatest role in systemic 
V,B implementation of school-based social and 
emotional learning? 

f\ What is the current state of SEL assessment 
by educators? 


As a follow-up to The Missing Piece, this report 
brings the valuable perspectives of principals, 
superintendents, and research and evaluation 
specialists to the foreground of the national conver¬ 
sation around the current status and future expan¬ 
sion of high-quality, evidence-based, systemic SEL 
in schools and districts nationwide. Their opinions 
reinforced what was heard from teachers in 2013 on 
the importance of developing social and emotional 
skills, while providing a picture of the current state of 
school-wide SEL programs across the United States. 
Educators need greater evidence, support, and 
guidance to successfully implement SEL, but the 
good news is that administrators from kindergarten 
to the 12 th grade, in all areas of the county, are com¬ 
mitted to developing students’ social and emotional 
skills and understand the value it can have in school 
improvement efforts. In addition, the Every Student 
Succeeds Act (ESSA) encourages increased 
prioritization of educating the whole child and even 
requires states to include at least one nonacademic 
indicator in their accountability systems, providing 
an invaluable window for schools and districts to 
prioritize social and emotional learning and restore 
an educational focus on providing high-quality child 
development (Gayl, 2017; Melnick, Cook-Harvey, & 
Darling-Hammond, 2017). The time is ripe to bring 
social and emotional learning into more schools and 
bring more students the education they deserve. 


10 Ready to Lead 


What is Social and Emotional Learning? 


Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process 
through which children and adults acquire and 
effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills 
necessary to understand and manage emotions, 
set and achieve positive goals, feel and show 
empathy for others, establish and maintain positive 
relationships, and make responsible decisions 
(CASEL, 2012). SEL programming is based on the 
understanding that the best learning emerges in the 
context of supportive relationships that make learning 
challenging, engaging, and meaningful. Social and 
emotional skills are critical to being good students, 
citizens, and workers. In addition, many different 
risky behaviors (e.g., drug use, violence, bullying, and 
dropping out) can be prevented or reduced when 
multiyear, integrated efforts are used to develop 
students’ social and emotional skills. This is best 
done through (1) effective classroom instruction; 

(2) student engagement in positive activities in and 
out of the classroom; (3) coordinated school-wide 
programming and policies, and (4) broad parent 
and community involvement in program planning, 
implementation, and evaluation (See Figure 1) (Bond 
& Carmola-Hauf, 2004; Nation et al., 2003; Oberle, 
Domitrovich, Meyer, & Weissberg, 2016; Weare 
& Nind, 2011; Weissberg, Durlak, Domitrovitch, & 
Gullotta, 2015). Effective SEL programming begins 
in preschool and continues through high school 
and beyond, and most importantly, it addresses the 
needs of both students and adults. 

SEL enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, 
attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and 
ethically with daily tasks and challenges. Like many 
similar frameworks, CASEL’s integrated framework 
promotes intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive 
competence. CASEL has identified five interrelated 
sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral com¬ 
petencies that can be taught in many ways across 
difference settings (CASEL, 2013; CASEL, 2015; 
Durlak, Domitrovitch, Weissberg, & Gullotta, 2015). 
The five-competency clusters for students are: 
Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recog¬ 
nize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and 
how they influence behavior. The ability to accu¬ 
rately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a 
well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and 
a “growth mindset.” 


Self-management: The ability to successfully reg¬ 
ulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in 
different situations — effectively managing stress, 
controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The 
ability to set and work toward personal and aca¬ 
demic goals. 

Social awareness: The ability to take the per¬ 
spective of and empathize with others, including 
those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The 
ability to understand social and ethical norms for 
behavior and to recognize family, school, and com¬ 
munity resources and supports. 

Relationship skills: The ability to establish and 
maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with 
diverse individuals and groups. The ability to com¬ 
municate clearly, listen well, cooperate with oth¬ 
ers, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate 
conflict constructively, and seek and offer help 
when needed. 


Figure 1. Framework for Systemic 
Social and Emotional Learning 



Ready to Lead 11 

















Responsible decision-making: The ability to 
make constructive choices about personal be¬ 
havior and social interactions based on ethical 
standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The 
realistic evaluation of consequences of various 
actions, and a consideration of the well-being of 
oneself and others. 

The short-term goals of SEL programs are to 
promote these competencies, and in turn, build 
student agency, increase engagement, and create 
a stronger connection between students and their 
learning. SEL programming provides a foundation 
for better adjustment and academic performance as 
reflected in more positive social behaviors and peer 
relationships, fewer conduct problems, less emo¬ 
tional distress, and improved grades and test scores 
(Durlak et al., 2011; Greenberg et al., 2003). 

Additional SEL Frameworks 

While CASEL is one of the leaders in developing a 
framework for teaching and implementing systemic 
SEL, other organizations have also advanced 
alternative frameworks for developing students’ 
social and emotional skills and competencies. A 
few prominent examples include models developed 
by the University of Chicago Consortium on School 
Research, Turnaround for Children, and P21. 

The Chicago Consortium’s Foundations for 
Young Adult Success framework believes that 
children learn through developmental experiences 
that require action and reflection in response to 
their interactions with the world and the adults 
around them. The Foundations for Young Adult 
Success framework sees three key factors required 
for young adult success: the agency to make ac¬ 
tive decisions about one’s life; the competencies 
to adapt to the demands of different contexts; and 
incorporating different aspects of oneself into an 
integrated identity. These factors for success are 
influenced by four foundational components: self¬ 
regulation, knowledge, mindsets, and values. 


Turnaround for Children’s Building Blocks for 
Learning framework represents the skills and 
mindsets that students use to access, acquire, 
and apply the academic knowledge and skills 
they learn in the classroom. In selecting the Build¬ 
ing Blocks for Learning, Turnaround for Children 
focused on three guiding principles: 1) alignment 
to the development of the child as a “learner” in 
an educational setting; 2) differentiating between 
personality/character traits and learner attributes 
by identifying measurable and malleable skills, 
behaviors, or mindsets; and 3) a research base 
demonstrating impact of skill, behavior, or mindset 
on academic achievement. These led to 16 differ¬ 
ent building blocks across 5 tiers (in ascending 
order) healthy development, school readiness, 
mindsets for self and school, perseverance, and 
independence and sustainability. 

P21’s Framework for 21st Century Learning 
identifies both 21st century student outcomes, 
as well as the support systems required for stu¬ 
dent success. The P21 framework believes that 
there are four 21st century student outcomes that 
students need to reach for future success in career 
and beyond. These outcomes include master¬ 
ing knowledge in key subjects and 21st century 
themes, like global awareness and environmental 
literacy; learning and innovation skills; information, 
media, and technology skills; and life and career 
skills. For students to achieve these skills, P21’s 
Framework identifies critical support systems that 
can help students on their path, such as innovative 
standards, curriculums and instruction, skills as¬ 
sessments, and professional development. 

The emergence of multiple frameworks to develop 
the social and emotional skills students will need 
for future life success is yet another example of the 
growing demand for SEL implementation. While 
researchers and scholars may offer variations on 
exactly how to cultivate these competencies, they 
agree that SEL is an integral part to each child’s 
education and development. 


12 Ready to Lead 




Attitudes About SEL 

There is a strong consensus among school- and district-level administrators that social and 
emotional skills are important and should be developed in M students. 


Principals understand, value, and are 
committed to developing students’ SEL skills 

Social and emotional learning (SEL), as defined in 
CASELs framework, is “the process through which 
people acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, 
attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and 
manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, 
feel and show empathy for others, establish and 
maintain positive relationships, and make respon¬ 
sible decisions.” SEL focuses on developing knowl¬ 
edge, attitudes, and skills in five competency areas: 
Self-awareness, like knowing your strengths and 
weaknesses; 

Self-management, like being able to stay in control 
and persevere through challenges; 

Social awareness, like understanding and empa¬ 
thizing with others; 

Relationship skills, like being able to work in teams 
and resolve conflicts; and 
Responsible decision making, like making safe 
and ethical choices. 

Our nationally representative survey confirms that 
principals strongly endorse this framework. Eighty- 
three percent of principals - up from 76 percent of 


teachers in 2013 - consider it to be very important 
for schools to promote the development of the SEL 
skills set out by CASEL. This high-level endorse¬ 
ment comes from principals throughout the K-12 
spectrum and from principals with both limited and 
advanced experience, and it is especially strong from 
urban and suburban principals (87 and 89 percent, 
respectively). In individual interviews, superintendents 
and district research and evaluation specialists also 
recognized the importance of developing students’ 
SEL skills in school, though some variation exists in 
the top-of-mind types of skills these administrators 
see as critically important. Superintendents listed 
qualities such as resilience, self-efficacy, self¬ 
regulation, empathy, communication skills, ability to 
get along with others, and problem-solving skills. 
Research and evaluation specialists mentioned quali¬ 
ties including motivation, grit, emotional intelligence, 
and interpersonal skills. Both superintendents and 
research and evaluation specialists endorsed the 
CASEL framework as a comprehensive approach to 
social and emotional development. 

One of the most promising findings from The Missing 
Piece report was that 95 percent of teachers believed 
that social and emotional skills are teachable in a 


Ready to Lead 13 



Principals are already on board with social and emotional learning. 


These social and emotional skills are teachable in a school setting: 


Definitely teachable 74% Probably teachable 


95% teachable (47% definitely) among teachers in 2013 


I am very/fairly committed to developing students’ social 
and emotional skills in my school: 


Very committed 69% Fairly committed 


school setting, and for principals, that belief is even 
higher. Ninety-nine percent of principals surveyed 
believe that SEL skills are teachable in school, 
and of those principals, nearly three-quarters (74 
percent) believe SEL skills are definitely teachable, 
compared to 47 percent of teachers just four years 
ago. Nearly all principals surveyed (95 percent) also 
report being committed to developing students’ SEL 
skills in their schools, including 69 percent who said 
that they are very committed. Elementary school 
principals (79 percent vs 66 percent of middle 
school and 70 percent of high school principals) 
and those in urban (81 percent) and suburban (77 
percent) schools (compared to 67 percent small 
town/rural) are more likely to believe SEL skills 
are teachable and report a strong commitment to 
developing their students’ SEL skills. 

Strong consensus among principals that 
SEL should be taught to all students 

Nearly all principals - 98 percent - believe that it is 
probably or definitely true that students from all types 
of backgrounds, both high- and low-income, would 
benefit from learning social and emotional skills in 
school. The strong consensus among principals 
that SEL holds benefits for all students aligns with 
what teachers reported in 2013. In fact, a majority 
of principals reject the idea that it is less important 
to teach SEL skills in affluent schools than in high- 
poverty schools, as well as that SEL skills should 
only be taught to students with social and emotional 
problems. This belief holds true for a large majority 
of principals, regardless of whether they lead high- 
or low-poverty schools (73 percent in low-poverty 
schools, 74 percent in high-poverty schools). 


■ There is a strong consensus 
that SEL should be taught to 
all students 


98% 


73% 


■ Definitely true 

■ Probably true 

■ Probably not true 

■ Definitely not true 


2% 


Principals believe in the benefits of SEL, 
but are less convinced of its impact on 
academic achievement 

Most principals surveyed see high probability of 
SEL’s positive benefits for students and their school. 
Virtually all principals believe that an increased 
focus on social and emotional learning would have 
at least a somewhat major benefit on promoting a 
positive school climate (99 percent), helping stu¬ 
dents become good citizens as adults (98 percent), 
improving relationships between students and their 
teachers (98 percent), and decreasing bullying 
(96 percent). Similarly, most principals say that an 
increased focus on developing SEL skills would help 
prepare students for the workforce (98 percent) and 


14 Ready to Lead 












Most principals are convinced that SEL improves school climate, 
citizenship, and relationships; a small majority expect academic gains. 


Very Major Benefit 


Somewhat Major Benefit 


Proportions saying increased focus on social and 
emotional would have a major benefit on: 


Promoting a positive school climate 


Students becoming good citizens as adults 


Relationships between teachers and students 


Relationships amoung students; bullying 


Preparing students for the workforce 


Students’ moving successfully thru K-12, graduating 


Students’ achievement in academic coursework 61% 


Preparing students to get to and through college 58% 


Total very/somewhat 

major benefit 

99% 

98% 

98% 

96% 

98% 

97% 

97% 

97% 


believe it would have a positive impact on students 
moving successfully through K-12 and graduating 
from high school (97 percent). Principals also believe 
SEL can have a very or somewhat major benefit on 
students’ academic achievement in their coursework 
(97 percent) and preparing students to get to and 
through college (97 percent). 

These results show that principals see the benefits 
of placing a larger focus on SEL, but fewer prin¬ 
cipals are fully convinced of a large-scale benefit 
on raising academic achievement and preparing 
students to get to and through college than they are 
of its benefits on improving school climate, citizen¬ 
ship, and relationships. For example, as the follow¬ 
ing graph shows, 83 percent of principals believe 
a larger focus on SEL would have a very major 
benefit on promoting a positive school climate and 
78 percent believe it will have a very major benefit 
on students becoming good students as adults. By 
contrast, the proportion who believe an increased 
focus on SEL will have a very major benefit drops 
to 61 percent for students’ academic achievement 
and 58 percent on college preparation. While these 
are solid majorities, this drop off indicates that some 
principals still need additional evidence of the size¬ 
able impact of SEL on academic achievement. 


“One thing is, you need to be able 
to show where it [SEL] is being done 
successfully, what the trade-off for 
that is. Whether it’s a positive trade¬ 
off-so you gave up the time for this, 
however overall scores improved, 
attendance improved - if you can 
show models where that’s occurred 
and the positive trade-off for the 
time and resources that need to be 
invested in it, that’s what people 
need to see before they’re willing to 
give up those other things.” 

Superintendent 

In interviews with superintendents and research and 
evaluation specialists, there was greater recognition 
of the link between developing students’ SEL skills 
and raising academic achievement. Most not only 
agreed that SEL skills are as high a priority as other 
skills students need to develop in K-12, but believe 


Ready to Lead 15 










Principals believe that SEL has a positive impact on students’ 
in-school experience. 

■ Definitely true ■ Probably true 

Teaching social and emotional skills in school will improve student behavior and reduce 
the need for discipline referrals 


56% 41% 


Teaching social and emotional skills will help students take more responsibility 
for their own learning and development 


51% 


46% 


Teaching social and emotional skills in school will make learning more engaging 
and enjoyable for students 


46% 49% 


95% 


Teaching social and emotional skills in school will improve students’ academic 
performance, such as by increasing standardized test scores or GPAs 


40% 


53% 


Teaching social and emotional skills in school will reduce absenteeism and 
improve student attendance 


40% 


52% 


SEL skills are, in fact, a prerequisite to the academic 
piece and that it is impossible to learn without them. 
However, these district-level administrators under¬ 
stand that not everyone sees the clear link between 
SEL and academic gains, and they emphasize that 
in order to get others on board with developing 
more SEL programming, it is imperative to produce 
greater evidence. This will need to include data 
demonstrating that developing SEL skills and 
competencies can lead to real academic gains, 
especially in schools and districts that are heavily 
focused on standardized testing, as well as provid¬ 
ing concrete case studies where a focus on SEL has 
led to greater academic achievement. 

Principals believe SEL can positively affect 
students’ in-school experience 
When asked if social and emotional learning could 
improve students’ in-school experience, principals 
responded in an overwhelmingly positive way. 


Ninety-seven percent of principals believe it is 
definitely or probably true that teaching SEL skills 
in school will improve student behavior and reduce 
the need for disciplinary referrals, as well as help 
students take more responsibility for their own learn¬ 
ing and development. Almost all principals also say 
it is definitely or probably true that teaching social 
and emotional skills in school will make learning 
more engaging and enjoyable for students (95 
percent), improve students’ academic performance 
(93 percent), and reduce absenteeism and improve 
student attendance (92 percent). 

While most principals are inclined overall to believe 
in the positive impacts of SEL on students’ in-school 
experience, less than half are entirely convinced of 
its effects on academic performance (40 percent 
say it is definitely true that SEL will improve this) and 
improving student attendance (40 percent say it is 
definitely true that SEL will improve this). 


16 Ready to Lead 











I n 2011, CASEL embarked on an effort to put research into action and launched the first-of-its 
kind Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) — a partnership among CASEL, Novo Foundation, 
the American Institute for Research (AIR), and initially, eight large school districts across the 
country: Anchorage, AK; Austin, TX; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Nashville, TN; Oakland, CA; 
Sacramento, CA; and Washoe County, NV. With Atlanta, GA and El Paso, TX subsequently 
joining the collaborative, the CDI now includes 10 school districts representing more than 
one million students in some of the nation’s most geographically, economically, and ethnically 
diverse communities. Though there are several other examples of high-quality, district-wide 
SEL implementation, including the CORE Districts in California, we focus here on SEL efforts 
within the CDI to help provide key insights on systemic SEL implementation, the challenges 
these districts have encountered, and how they envision their work moving forward. For more 
on the mission of the CDI, please see Appendix III and visit http://www.casel.org/cdi-results/. 


Snapshot: 

Anchorage School District - 
Building on Grassroots SEL 

Anchorage School District is the largest school 
district in Alaska, serving 47,834 students during the 
2016-17 school year. The students that comprise 
Anchorage School District are 42 percent white, 6 
percent Black, 12 percent Hispanic, and 17 percent 
Asian and/or Pacific Islander. A majority of students 
(54 percent) in Anchorage School District qualify 
for free or reduced-price lunch, while 15 percent of 
students in Anchorage were categorized as students 
with disabilities in 2016-17. 1 Anchorage School 
District posted a high school graduation rate of 80 
percent in 2015, 4.4 percentage points higher than 
the graduation rate for the state of Alaska. 

Anchorage was an original member of CASEL’s 
Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI), joining in 
2011, but developing the social and emotional skills 
of both students and adults across the district was 
happening well before becoming a part of the CDI. 

In the decade before joining the CDI, educators in 
Anchorage worked to create SEL standards, bring 
in an SEL coordinator, and establish SEL programs 
in its schools. This grassroots effort to prioritize SEL 
came from an inherent core value in Anchorage’s 
teachers and leaders that their job was to go beyond 
teaching academic content and educate the whole 


child - a focus that still drives their work today. By 
joining CASEL’s CDI, however, Anchorage has been 
able to hone their efforts and advance systemic 
implementation through common language and 
programming. Here are a few key takeaways from 
Anchorage on SEL implementation: 

Why leadership matters: In Anchorage, what 
helped drive SEL at the district level is the belief 
that SEL should be at the heart of their mission to 
educate children. Those who are shaping SEL in the 
district have seen how critical it is to get the backing 
of administrators and principals, who are the key to 
change, and that these leaders successfully model 
the social and emotional competencies they want 
to instill in students and staff. The leadership in 
Anchorage has also played a crucial role in taking 
SEL implementation toward a more systematic 
implementation through its District Leadership Team, 
which brought together district-level administrators, 
principals, and teachers for three years to grapple 
with how to move the district in the right direction. 
The District Leadership Team used the pre-existing 
Response to Intervention (RTI) framework that was 
being used across the district to build out appropri¬ 
ate SEL programming for elementary, middle, and 
high schools and put all schools on the same page. 
Creating the District Leadership Team involved 
school and district leaders in the decision-making 
on SEL implementation, but more importantly, 


1 School district data retrieved from Department of Demographics-GIS Services, "Ethnicity Report,” Anchorage School District, retrieved 
from https://www.asdk12,org/demographics-gis/ethnicity/. 


Ready to Lead 17 



included teachers in the process and made trans¬ 
parency a key component, ensuring that nothing 
was happening to teachers, but rather with them 
at the helm. 

Moving from a core value to data-driven SEL: 

Anchorage is seeing a shift from holding SEL and 
whole child development as a core value to using 
SEL data to learn more about outcomes and how 
to improve their instruction and implementation. 
Though SEL has long been a staple in the district, 
evaluating SEL programs and their outcomes has 
only become a priority more recently. The district 
uses a school climate and connectedness survey to 
measure where students stand on 17 SEL compe¬ 
tencies, as well as how they perceive school culture. 
Anchorage also collects data from a SEL staff 
survey that draws on the perceptions of teachers 
and provides them with feedback on their implemen¬ 
tation efforts and informs their practice. In addition 
to the student and staff surveys, Anchorage uses 
a family satisfaction survey that measures percep¬ 
tions of climate and safety in their child’s school. All 
of these survey results will now be available in the 
district’s data dashboard to make SEL data more 
accessible to educators, families, and community 
organizations. Leaders are trying to be more inten¬ 
tional about collecting data to evaluate the impact 
of SEL programming and using that data to course 
correct where needed. 

Asking big questions: Some of the greatest course 
corrections in Anchorage have come from asking 
critical questions in their surveys and questioning 
how best to move SEL implementation forward in the 
most beneficial way possible. One question on the 
grade 6-12 student school climate and connected¬ 
ness survey asks students to respond to the state¬ 
ment: “At school, there is a teacher or some other 
adult who will miss me when I’m absent.” When just 
46 percent of students responded positively, they 
knew change was needed. This pushed the district 
to make relationships a priority by making sure 
adults in each school were equipped to build better 
relationships with their students and built upon long¬ 
standing efforts to ensure that adults in the district 
had developed their own SEL skills. Asking the right 
questions also shapes their use of SEL data. Instead 
of going full-steam ahead with increased data 
collection and reporting, educators in Anchorage 


asked themselves whether they truly needed more 
data or if they simply needed better data that could 
help them understand their current SEL programs 
and how to improve them. This has allowed for a 
focus on collecting the data that matters to teachers 
and can help them improve their instruction and kept 
the data collection transparent. Though Anchorage 
is still working toward a better SEL data system, 
asking big questions - and being sure to keep the 
well-being of students and teachers at the heart of 
it - is helping to move SEL in the district forward 
successfully. 

For more information on SEL in Anchorage, please 
visit: http://www.casel.org/partner-districts/ 
anchorage-school-district/ 


18 Ready to Lead 



SEL Implementation 

While the “will” to implement SEL is there, the “way” - understanding the key components 
to implementation, who needs to be involved, and having adequate support - is often not. 
But in schools that are systematically implementing SEL, a few things are very clear: sup¬ 
port from district leaders is high, teachers are heavily involved, and more stakeholders are 
included in the process. And the more systemic SEL is, the greater the outcomes. Principals 
that have already moved toward school-wide SEL are seeing better academic results and an 
improved in-school experience all around. 


The evidence shows that the benefits of SEL are 
greater when it is implemented effectively and 
seamlessly integrated into the learning environment, 
but in most places, even when high-quality program¬ 
ming is being used, SEL is often not embedded 
across classrooms in a meaningful way (Oberle, 
Domitrovich, Meyers, & Weissberg, 2016). Like 
academic skills, social and emotional competencies 
are best developed when students and teachers are 
given the opportunity to continuously hone these 
skills and build upon them through daily practice and 
reinforcement. This is why many SEL researchers 
advise a move away from fragmented approaches to 
SEL toward systemic, school-wide programming that 
allows students’ social and emotional skills to be cul¬ 
tivated alongside their academic skills and creates a 
common climate and culture for SEL throughout the 
school (Greenberg et al., 2003; Jones & Bouffard, 
2012; Meyers et al., 2015; Oberle, Domitrovitch, 
Meyers, & Weissberg, 2016). Establishing a school¬ 


wide SEL plan lays the groundwork for providing 
training and support for teachers and staff, making 
shared decisions on SEL program adoption, creating 
SEL benchmarks and appropriate assessments to 
measure student progress, and creating family and 
community partnerships that can help support the 
development of social and emotional competencies 
outside of school. School-wide SEL implementation 
- with the support of district leaders - also allows for 
customized SEL programming based on the needs 
of the school, increasing the likelihood of buy-in and 
providing critical space for growth and readjustment. 

Though the evidence for systemic SEL implementa¬ 
tion is strong, it is clear from our survey that the 
majority of principals are not yet going this route 
-just one-quarter of principals score high on SEL 
implementation. The ones who are systematically 
implementing SEL school-wide have three key 
things in common: 1) They have strong support 


Ready to Lead 19 



While principals consistently support SEL, there is more variation 
in implementation. 

Which of these best describes your school in having a school-wide program for teaching students 
social and emotional skills? 


Developed a plan for teaching students social and emotional skills, 
and systematically implementing it school-wide 


35% 


Developed a plan for teaching students social and emotional skills, 
and with partial implementation 


38% 


In the process of developing a plan for teaching students social and 
emotional skills but it is not yet complete 


20 % 


Not really considering developing a plan for teaching students social 
and emotional skills 


7% 


Impementing plan school-wide 

Elementary School 

41% 

Middle/junior high 

31% 

High school 

25% 

Urban 

41% 

Suburban 

32% 

Small town/rural 

31% 

Free/reduced lunch 

Less than 40% 

37% 

80%/more 

37% 

School size (students) 

Less than 500 

34% 

500 to 999 

38% 

1,000/more 

31% 


from district leaders, 2) they expect all teachers to 
develop students’ SEL skills, and 3) they engage a 
wide range of both in- and out-of-school stakehold¬ 
ers to advance SEL. These principals are also 
reaping the greatest rewards. Principals who are 
systematically implementing SEL in their schools are 
more likely to report successfully developing stu¬ 
dents’ knowledge in key content areas, their ability 
to apply knowledge and skills in real world situa¬ 
tions, and their critical thinking and reasoning skills. 
Principals in schools where SEL implementation 
is high are also far more likely to believe that SEL 
will reduce discipline referrals, make learning more 
enjoyable for students, reduce absenteeism, and 
improve students’ academic performance. These 
findings strongly support a school-wide approach to 
SEL implementation and add to a growing research 
base that systemic SEL can lead to big improve¬ 
ments throughout a school. 

While support is high, SEL 
implementation varies significantly 

Despite overwhelmingly positive support from 
administrators for developing students’ SEL skills 
and competencies, implementation of SEL pro¬ 
gramming varies widely. Only about one-third of 
principals (35 percent) report that their school has 
developed a plan for teaching students social and 
emotional skills and is systematically implementing 


it school-wide. Nearly two in five principals (38 
percent) said that their school has developed a 
plan for teaching SEL but has reached only partial 
implementation. Twenty percent of principals 
reported being in the process of developing a plan 
for teaching SEL, and just seven percent said they 
were not considering developing a plan for teaching 
SEL. School-wide implementation is more likely to 
be reported by elementary school principals (41 
percent, compared to 31 percent of middle school 
and 25 percent of high school principals) and by 
those in urban settings (41 percent, compared to 32 
percent in suburban and 31 percent in small town/ 
rural areas). 

Nearly 70 percent of principals said they expect aH 
teachers in their school to teach students social and 
emotional skills. Sixty-four percent reported that the 
teaching of social and emotional skills is integrated 
throughout the academic curriculum - though only 
25 percent said that this applies fully to their school. 
Elementary school principals (67 percent) were more 
likely than middle (58 percent) and high school (57 
percent) principals to report integrating SEL into 
their academic curriculum. By contrast, about half 
of principals (51 percent) said they have a separate 
and specific curriculum, apart from academics, for 
teaching students social and emotional skills. 

Superintendents and research and evaluation 
specialists agree that the teaching of social and 


20 Ready to Lead 















emotional skills is, for the most part, not universal in 
their districts. While most see SEL being addressed 
at least tangentially and believe that teachers are 
inherently building students’ SEL skills, only some 
report having specific programs in place. In inter¬ 
views, several mentioned PBIS, character education, 
Second Step, and restorative justice programming 
as ways students in their schools are getting 
these skills. Few superintendents reported having 
specific, explicit social and emotional goals stated 
in their learning standards, although several have 
incorporated social and emotional development into 
their district’s broader mission statement or strategic 
plan. Many also said that while SEL teaching is 
happening in lower grades, it drops off by the time 
students reach middle or high school. 

“Indirectly [SEL teaching is happening] 
quite a bit, but it is not formalized 
like it should be. We need to make 
the emphasis that every teacher 
is taking steps to deal with social 
and emotional needs of students, 
but I understand it’s hard because 
they have to get through so much 
curriculum for tests: it turns into an 
assembly line of information, rather 
than caring about a kid with divorced 
parents or who is in foster care.” 

Superintendent 

Few schools fully meet the bench¬ 
marks for implementing SEL 

CASEL has developed a school-wide framework 
for SEL implementation, which lays out key areas 
of focus to help schools establish goals and reflect 
upon their implementation efforts. 2 For the purposes 


of our survey, the framework was narrowed down to 
seven key benchmarks: 

My school has developed a clear vision statement 
that prioritizes social and emotional learning for 
ail students. 

My school has a long-term plan to support 
students’ social and emotional learning. 

My school has implemented an evidence-based 
program for teaching students social and 
emotional skills. 

There is a coordinated professional development 
program that addresses social and emotional 
learning. 

My school regularly evaluates whether adequate 
resources are being devoted to social and 
emotional learning. 

The central office leaders of my school’s district 
provide guidance and support for social and emo¬ 
tional learning. 

My school has comprehensive, developmental^ 
appropriate learning standards that describe what 
social and emotional skills students should know 
and be able to demonstrate at each grade level. 

When principals were asked if their school was 
meeting those benchmarks, few were. Less than 
half said their school has a clear vision statement 
prioritizing SEL for all students or a long-term plan 
to support students’ social and emotional learning. 
Forty percent reported implementing evidence- 
based programming for teaching SEL, and 36 
percent said they have coordinated professional 
development addressing SEL or are regularly 
evaluating if the resources devoted to SEL are 
adequate. Only a third (34 percent) reported that 
district leaders provided guidance/support for SEL, 
and only 33 percent said that standards are in 
place describing SEL for each grade level. 

Of all principals surveyed, just one-quarter could 
be considered “high-implementers” of SEL. 3 
Thirty-nine percent of principals are moderate 
impiementers, and 36 percent are low implement¬ 
ed. The highest implementing principals can be 


2 For more on the Theory of Action and to view resources for the systemic implementation of social and emotional learning, please visit 
CASEL’s District Resource Center at https://drc.casel.org. 

3 SEL implementation calculated by assigning schools points based on principals’ reporting of how well each benchmark describes their 
school (on a 0- to 4-point scale on each of CASEL’s seven benchmarks, maximum score 28 points): High = 21 or higher, moderate = 11 
to 20, low = 0 to 10. 


Ready to Lead 21 




Few schools fully meet the benchmarks for implementing SEL. 

How well does this describe your school? 


■ Describes very well ■ Describes fairly well ■ Describes somewhat ■ Doesn’t describe well ■ Doesn’t describe at all 


Has a clear vision statement 
prioritizing SEL for all 

Has long-term plan to 
support students’ SEL 

Implements evidence-based 
program for teaching SEL 

Has coordinated professional 
development addressing SEL 

Regularly evaluates if devoting 
adequate resources to SEL 

District leaders provided 
guidance/support for SEL 

Has standards describing SEL 
skills for each grade level 


45% I 


18% 

27% 

25% 

17% 

13% 

43% 1 

17% 

26% 

26% 

17% 

14% 


40 %| 

1 _ 

18% 

22% 

23% 

20% 

17% 


36% I 


15% 21% 23% 23% 18% 


36% I 


13% 23% 28% 20% 16% 


34% I 


14% 

20% 

25% 

21% 

20% 

33% 1 

12% 

21% 

25% 

22% 

20% 


found in urban school districts, while the lowest 
are in small town or rural districts. Implementation 
is fairly evenly split across grade levels and highl¬ 
and low-poverty schools. 

District leadership plays a large 
role in driving SEL 

Though the support for SEL among administrators 
is high, part of the variance in implementation 
appears to come from a disconnect between 
school and district leadership. While a large 
majority of principals said their school district 
emphasizes developing students’ social and 
emotional skills at least a fair amount, only 26 
percent said there was a “great deal” of emphasis 
on SEL coming from above. In fact, only 40 percent 
of principals said their central district leadership 
requires all schools to have a plan for teaching 
social and emotional skills. Of principals who 
said their school district places a great deal of 
emphasis on teaching SEL, however, 65 percent 
reported their school has developed a plan for SEL 
and is systematically implementing it school-wide. 

In comparison, of principals who said their district 
places a fair amount of emphasis and those who 
claimed even less emphasis, just 30 percent and 
16 percent, respectively, have a plan for SEL and 
are systematically implementing it. 


More than half of principals (54 percent) who said 
their district places a great deal of emphasis on 
SEL qualified as high implementers according to 
CASELs benchmarks, and thirty-six percent were 
moderate implementers. On the other hand, of those 
who said their districts placed less emphasis on 
SEL, just 8 percent were high implementers and 28 
percent moderate implementers, pointing again to 
the critical importance of having support for SEL at 
the highest levels of district leadership. 

“I think it comes from the top: what 
we message, what we monitor, what 
we pay attention to, what we provide 
professional learning around, what 
type of experts we bring in for their 
learning.” 

Superintendent 

Interviews with superintendents confirmed how 
important it is for central district leadership to be 
engaged in SEL, reporting that SEL is happening 
on a more programmatic basis where central 
office leadership is invested in SEL and has made 
building these skills a priority. They also believe 
when support for SEL implementation comes from 
the top, it carries with it the power to bring imple¬ 
menters (e.g., principals and teachers) and other 


22 Ready to Lead 










■ District leadership plays an important role in driving SEL. 


Emphasis my school district places on 
developing students’ social/emotional skills 


72% 



of emphasis 


My school has developed a plan for SEL and 
is systematically implemented is school-wide 
(By district’s amount of emphasis) 


65% 



Principles 
saying great 
deal 


Principals 
saying fair 
amount 


Principals 
saying less 


stakeholders (e.g., parents and school boards) on 
board with expanding SEL. in the districts of the 
superintendents who described SEL as a personal 
passion of theirs, SEL is being implemented more 
extensively and there is a greater level of experi¬ 
mentation with creative and innovative approaches 
to implementing SEL that are tailored to the needs 
and goals of the district. Both school and district 
leaders agree: calls for SEL coming from the 
highest level of leadership are a critical piece to 
ensuring it takes hold on a systemic basis. 

Schools that are systematically 
implementing SEL involve more 
people, are more successful at 
developing students’ SEL skills, 
and see more academic success 

Principals most commonly report that school 
administrators (92 percent), teachers (90 percent), 
and counselors (84 percent) are actively engaged 
in developing students’ social and emotional skills. 
Roughly half report involving parents (52 percent), 
and just less than half cite school psychologists 
(46 percent), coaches and extracurricular activity 
leaders (45 percent), and school social workers 
(43 percent) as being engaged in teaching SEL. 
Sixty-one percent of high school principals report 
coaches and extracurricular activity leaders as 
being engaged in developing students’ social and 


emotional skills, compared to 56 percent of middle 
school principals and 33 percent of elementary 
school principals. 

“I can tell you anecdotally that children 
who get along, who are comfortable in 
their classrooms and are comfortable 
seeking help and advocating for them¬ 
selves when they need it, I can tell you 
that those kinds of children tend to do 
better in school and that our programs 
are designed to help children develop 
in those ways.” 

Superintendent 

Schools that report the highest levels of SEL 
implementation are more likely to involve more in- 
and out-of-school stakeholders, which can better 
ensure everyone is working together to success¬ 
fully put SEL into practice. Principals in schools 
with both high and moderate SEL implementation 
are more likely to involve principals and school 
administrators, teachers, counselors and school 
psychologists, parents, coaches/extracurricular 
activity leaders, school social workers, and before- 
and after-school staff in engaging students’ social 
and emotional competencies. 


Ready to Lead 23 











■ The primary actors involved in teaching SEL are school 
administrators, teachers, and school counselors. 

Which of the following people are actively engaged in developing students’ social and 
emotional skills in your school? 


Principals and school administrators 


Teachers 


Counselors 


School psychologists 46% 

Coaches/extracurricular activity leaders 45% I 

School social workers 43% H 

Before-/after-school staff 30% B 'V V, 


Elementary school 33% 
Middle/junior high 56% 
High school 61 % 


In high-implementing schools, 98 percent of princi¬ 
pals report that all teachers (with some exceptions) 
are expected to teach social and emotional skills, 
compared to 80 percent in moderate-implementa¬ 
tion schools and 39 percent in low-implementation 
schools. They are also far more likely to partner with 
parents (89 percent, compared to 58 percent in 
moderate-implementation schools and 25 percent 
in low-implementation schools) and work with 
out-of-school-time providers (67 percent, compared 
to 38 percent in moderate-implementation schools 
and 19 percent in low-implementation schools) to 
promote SEL. Schools with low implementation, on 
the other hand tend to leave more of the responsibil¬ 
ity for developing students’ SEL skills to counselors 
and school psychologists: in low-implementation 
schools, 51 percent report that counselors and 
psychologists are primarily responsible for develop¬ 
ing these skills (compared to the 39 percent who say 
all teachers are expected to do so). 

In a self-report of how their schools are faring at 
developing students’ social and emotional skills, 

71 percent of principals say they are either very or 
fairly successful, though just 23 percent report being 
very successful. Those numbers rise significantly for 
principals reporting high implementation - 93 per¬ 
cent report success at developing students’ social 
and emotional skills, with 45 percent saying they are 


very successful. Moderate implementers report a 73 
percent success rate (19 percent very successful), 
while just 55 percent of low-implementers say they 
are successfully developing students’ SEL compe¬ 
tencies (11 percent very successful). 

Many principals in schools that are implementing 
SEL school-wide are seeing greater success in 
developing key academic skills. Ninety percent of 
high-implementing principals say their school is 
very (46 percent) or fairly (44 percent) successful 
at developing student knowledge in key content/ 
subject areas, compared to 82 percent of moderate 
implementers (28 percent very, 54 fairly) and 76 
percent of low implementers (20 percent very, 56 
percent fairly). An overwhelming majority of high- 
implementing principals also report greater levels 
of success at developing student ability to apply 
knowledge/skills in real world situations (86 percent) 
and developing student critical thinking and reason¬ 
ing (87 percent) - both skills deemed critical for 
success by leaders in higher education and employ¬ 
ers. A majority of moderate- and low-implementing 
principals also report success at developing these 
skills in students, but at significantly lower rates. 

The link reported by administrators between 
academic success and an emphasis on social 
and emotional learning is backed up by a growing 


24 Ready to Lead 














■ Low implementers leave SEL up to school counselors whereas high 
implementers involve all teachers and build community partnerships. 

Portions saying each fully applies/applies with some exceptions in their school 



Schools with high 
implementation 

Schools with moderate 
implementation 

Schools with low 
implementation 

All teachers are expected to teach 
students social and emotional skills 

98% 

80% 

39% 

We partner with parents to promote social 
and emotional learning 

89% 

58% 

25% 

We work with out-of-school-time providers to 
promote social and emotional learning 

67% 

38% 

19% 

Counselors and school psychologists are 
primary responsible for developing students 
social and emotional skills 

59% 

57% 

51% 


E Schools that are systematically implementing SEL also see more 
academic success. 

Evaluation of School’s Success in Selected Areas, by Schools’ Level of SEL Implementation 


■ My school is very successful at this ■ My school is fairly successful at this 


Developing student knowledge Developing student ability to apply Developing student critical 

in key content/subject areas knowledge/skills in real world situations thinking and reasoning 


90% 



86 % 



87% 



research base. Four large, comprehensive meta- 
analytic reviews conducted since 2011 show that 
students receiving SEL programming in addition 
to regular classroom curriculum had improved 
academic outcomes - including one that found an 
11-percentile-point gain in academic achievement - 
compared to students who did not receive additional 
SEL programming (Duriak et al., 2011; January, 
Casey, & Paulson, 2011; Sklad et al., 2012; Taylor et 
al., 2017). The most recent of these meta-analyses, 
released in 2017, found a small number of individual 
studies that showed students participating in SEL 
programming had stronger SEL skills, improved 


attitudes, and higher academic performance, and 
also found greater success in graduating high 
school and completing college than students who 
did not receive SEL interventions. 

Principals in high-implementation schools also 
believe that SEL has the power to improve the school 
environment and students’ in-school experience. 
Moderate implementers also see the potential of 
SEL to positively impact their students and schools, 
but they are less certain of this. A majority of high- 
implementing principals believe it is definitely true 
that SEL will improve student behavior and reduce 
disciplinary referrals (69 percent, compared to 58 


Ready to Lead 25 





























percent in moderate-implementation schools and 
43 percent in low-implementation schools); make 
learning more enjoyable for students (59 percent, 
compared to 48 percent in moderate-implementation 
schools and 33 percent in low-impiementation 
schools); reduce absenteeism and improve atten¬ 
dance (59 percent, compared to 38 percent in 
moderate-implementation schools and 29 percent in 
low-implementation schools); and improve students’ 
academic performance, standardized test scores, 
and GPAs (57 percent, compared to 38 percent in 
moderate-implementation schools and 30 percent 
in low-implementation schools). High-implementing 
school leaders, therefore, are the best advocates for 
SEL and can serve as essential spokespersons for 
guiding and expanding SEL implementation. 

“I see happy kids. I mean, you can 
tell when an adult culture focuses 
on relationships and focuses on 
community and holds each other 
responsible for that. It plays out into, 
students are eager and engaged 
and happy. And you also see it in the 
data: less suspensions, less parent 
complaints. You see more stability 
in the teachers on those campuses, 
they stay longer. You see stability 
because they’re happy.” 

Superintendent 

Superintendents who have witnessed or overseen 
an expansion of SEL in their districts report similar 
satisfaction with the results. While few are measur¬ 
ing these skills in a concrete, systematic way (see 
Survey Findings 4: Assessing SEL), many expressed 
anecdotal evidence that developing students’ social 
and emotional skills is having a positive impact on 
the school climate and on students’ relationships 
with teachers and other students. Several pointed to 
a decrease in disciplinary actions and referrals, as 


‘The most compelling data [on SEL] 
is that seven years ago we had, I 
believe we had 55 to 56 percent of 
our students in poverty who went on 
to postsecondary education, went on 
to college, about 55 percent of them 
had to take remedial coursework 
upon entering college. Over seven 
years, that trend line has dropped 
like a rock. It hasn’t gone up and 
down, it’s gone straight down. We 
now have 16 percent that require 
remedial coursework in college. It’s 
an incredible piece of data.” 

Superintendent 

well as an improved process for identifying students 
for special education classes. A handful of superin¬ 
tendents mentioned that their teachers have noticed 
improvements in students’ mindsets and resiliency 
or that students are feeling more comfortable in 
the classroom asking for help instead of giving up. 
Altogether, the links high-implementing school and 
district leaders see between SEL and improved 
outcomes indicate that a focus on developing 
students’ social and emotional competencies can 
be a powerful force for keeping students engaged 
in school and improving the school environment for 
both students and educators. 


26 Ready to Lead 




Snapshot: Metropolitan Nashville 
Public Schools - Meeting Schools 
Where They Are to Advance SEL 

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) 
serves the city of Nashville, Tennessee and sur¬ 
rounding Davidson County. During the 2015-16 
school year, the most recent year for which data is 
available, the school district served a total of 85,123 
students. The majority of students in MNPS were 
students of color, as 44 percent of students were 
Black, 30 percent white, and 22 percent Hispanic. 
Nearly 54 percent of students in the district qualified 
for free or reduced-price lunch, 13 percent were 
students with disabilities, and 18 percent were 
English Language Learners. 4 

MNPS joined CASEL’s Collaborating Districts 
Initiative in 2012. The district was already using the 
Response to Intervention (RTI) framework and was 
working at the Tier 2 (Targeted Interventions) and 
Tier 3 (Intensive Interventions and Comprehensive 
Evaluation) levels to target students for individualized 
support and intervention. CASEL pushed educa¬ 
tors in MNPS to focus on the Tier 1 level and focus 
their thinking around SEL for all students. To move 
toward a more expanded SEL implementation, 

MNPS started working with Responsive Classroom, 
rolling out training to two teachers at each of their 75 
elementary schools plus the entire faculty and staff 
at two of the schools. Since then, MNPS has learned 
some valuable lessons and done some critical work 
in the area of SEL assessment. Here are some key 
insights from their journey: 

Providing SEL options: Though MNPS started with 
Responsive Classroom, the expense forced them to 
move to a three-option model. Schools may choose 
from incorporating restorative approaches, PBIS, or 
an SEL foundations curricuium. To determine these 
options, SEL leaders worked with 12 different school 
clusters to discuss various possibilities before 
settling on the final three. Additionally, the district 
has created “I Can” statements for each grade level, 
describing the SEL skills students should attain 


during that year, that teachers integrate into their 
instruction. This provides guidance, structure, and 
flexibility to schools to ensure SEL fits their needs. 

Assessing SEL: SEL leaders in MNPS began 
prioritizing SEL assessment about four years ago 
when they realized the data they were getting did 
not match what they were seeing in schools. They 
decided to develop an “SEL walkthrough,” taking 
three years to create a high-quality rubric to mea¬ 
sure how schools were faring in integrating SEL. The 
process to create the rubric was built upon figuring 
out what they were looking for in terms of assessing 
SEL, and making sure they were meeting schools 
where they were, instead of where they thought they 
should be, which has allowed it to become a useful 
tool for improvement - not one for punishment. 

During the walkthrough, members of the SEL team 
perform school observations, assessing them on 
three criteria: school-wide environment, classroom 
instruction, and classroom environment, manage¬ 
ment, and discipline. The SEL team then compiles 
the results of the walkthrough and determines each 
school’s strengths and areas of growth, and two 
weeks later, they return to the school to go over the 
results with the entire faculty. The findings from the 
walkthrough are used to improve SEL programming 
and share best practices across the district, as well 
as continually improve the rubric. 

MNPS’ work to assess schools and teacher per¬ 
formance on SEL is showing promising results and 
teaching SEL leaders what to look for in measuring 
SEL implementation and how to use those results 
for improvement. They are looking ahead at poten¬ 
tially assessing school culture through a student 
and teacher school climate survey, as well as 
students’ mindsets, but are not looking to assess 
students’ SEL skills or make it a part of an account¬ 
ability system. 

For more on SEL in MNPS, please visit: http://www. 

casel.org/partner-districts/metropolitan-nashville- 

public-schools/ 


4 School district data retrieved from Tennessee Department of Education, “Profile: 2015-2016 Davidson County,” retrieved from 
https://www.tn.gov/education/topic/report-card. 


Ready to Lead 27 





Survey Findings 3 


The Path to Increased SEL 

While principals and district administrators are highly receptive to a greater emphasis on 
SEL, they need help moving forward with implementation. This, first and foremost, will be 
dependent on increased training for both pre-service and in-service teachers. 


Principals want more SEL training 
for teachers, access to research- 
based strategies 

A majority of principals indicated a lack of teacher 
training poses a significant challenge to SEL imple¬ 
mentation. Sixty percent of principals said the need 
for more teacher training to support SEL implementa¬ 
tion is a big challenge. Less than half of principals 
feel as though the teachers in their building are very 
or fairly well prepared to teach social and emotional 
skills, including only 10 percent who believe their 
teachers are very prepared. Just under 40 percent 
say the teachers in their school are somewhat 
prepared, and 17 percent believe their teachers 
are not prepared to successfully teacher social and 
emotional skills. Principals throughout the K-12 spec¬ 
trum and school income levels responded similarly. 
Principals from urban schools were more likely to 
respond positively about their teachers’ SEL training 
than those in suburban and small town/rural schools. 
This matches findings from The Missing Piece, in 
which only about half of teachers (55 percent) said 
they had received some form of SEL training. 


When asked to choose from a list provided what 
the most important elements to ensuring schools 
are successful in developing students’ social and 
emotional skills, principals most commonly chose 
additional professional development for teachers (54 
percent) as the most critical factor. Approximately 
one-third of principals (32 percent) chose dedicated 
planning time for teachers for SEL lessons. 

Based on a recent national scan of SEL content 
in state teacher certification requirements and 
teacher preparation programs in colleges of educa¬ 
tion, it is not surprising that principals would feel 
as though many of their teachers lack the proper 
training to successfully develop students’ social and 
emotional skills. The scan, conducted by research¬ 
ers at the University of British Columbia, found 
that while many state requirements mentioned 
several of CASEL’s SEL competencies, there was 
a disconnect between those requirements and the 
coursework being provided to pre-service teachers 
(Schonert-Reichl, Kitil, & Hanson-Peterson, 2017). 
So, though many states have established a need for 
teachers to be prepared to address their own social 


28 Ready to Lead 


Lack of teacher time is the biggest barrier to increasing SEL; 
teacher training and funding also need to be addressed. 

How big a challenge is this in trying to implement teaching SEL in your school? 


■ Very big challenge ■ Fairly big challenge 


Teachers not having 
enough time 

Teachers needing more 
training to support SEL 

Lack of funding 
dedicated to SEL 

Lack of reinforcement 
of these skills at home 

Issues re ability to measure 
social/emotional skills 

Lack of teacher consensus 
that SEL should be taught 

Not a priority for 
my school district 

Parents who believe SEL 
should be taught at home 


71 % 


26% 


33% 


31% 


60% 
159% 

159% 


14% 


10 % 


45% 


30% 


9% 





8% 


21% 


25% 


and emotional competencies, emphasis on under¬ 
standing students’ social and emotional well-being 
and coursework to prepare teachers to develop 
students SEL skills is still lacking. 

An overwhelming majority of principals - 82 percent 
- believe their teachers would be receptive to their 
school placing a greater emphasis on teaching social 
and emotional skills. Positive responses were high 
among principals from all grade levels, geographic 
areas, and school socioeconomic status, as well as 
academic performance ratings. Principals in high- 
SEL-implementing schools (90 percent) were more 
likely to report their teachers being more receptive, 
but both moderate-implementing (87 percent) and 
low-implementing (70 percent) principals also stated 
positive beliefs about how teachers in their school 
would receive a greater emphasis on SEL. Principals’ 
beliefs about teachers being open to receiving more 
SEL training align with what teachers reported in 
The Missing Piece in 2013. Four in five teachers 
(82 percent) said they would like more SEL training, 
including 61 percent who reported being very or 
fairly interested. Three in four teachers (73 percent) 
saw the lack of training in how to teach social and 
emotional skills as at least somewhat of a challenge 
to successfully implementing SEL in their classrooms 
(Bridgeland, Bruce, & Hariharan, 2013). 


Beyond greater teaching training and preparation 
time, 44 percent of principals chose more research- 
based strategies on how to effectively promote SEL. 
Some principals also expressed interest in having 
assessment data on students’ SEL skills to guide and 
improve practices (22 percent). 

High implementers of SEL more 
likely to report better trained 
teachers 

A key takeaway from principals is that once again, 
in districts that emphasize SEL and score high on 
SEL implementation, higher numbers report that their 
teachers are able to successfully teach SEL. Seventy- 
eight percent of principals who said their district places 
a great deal of emphasis on SEL said their teachers 
are well prepared to teach social and emotional skills, 
compared to just 21 percent of principals where 
emphasis on SEL is minimal. Similarly, 80 percent of 
high-implementing principals - opposed to just 15 
percent of low-implementing principals - report that 
their teachers are prepared to successfully teach SEL. 
Superintendents agree with this assessment. Those 
who said they have incorporated SEL teaching into 
their regular professional development report that 
teachers are more prepared and more well-versed in 
the language of SEL, and that, in turn, social and emo¬ 
tional development is a higher priority in the classroom. 


Ready to Lead 29 



















“It’s not only a time issue, but it’s a 
personnel issue and a funding issue. 
I wouldn’t be able to hire a separate 
staff to be able to just focus on 
this. You’ve got to do it within your 
existing staff and then you’ve got to 
get them trained to be able to fully 
implement it.” 

Superintendent 

Lack of time, funding also seen 
as barriers 

One of the larger issues schools face in implement¬ 
ing SEL is the “how” - how to teach social and 
emotional skills without adding one more thing into 
an already crowded school day. Teachers especially 
feel the strain of having to do more than they are 
already asked, and are less likely to buy in to an 
initiative that amounts to “one more thing.” In fact, 
in The Missing Piece survey, 81 percent of teachers 
said that not enough time in the school day to take 
on something new is a big challenge for schools 
trying to take on SEL implementation. The principals 
we surveyed understand this, citing a lack of time 
for teachers as the biggest challenge schools face 
in trying to implement SEL (Bridgeland, Bruce, & 
Hariharan, 2013). More than 40 percent of principals 
agreed that teacher time is a very big challenge, 
while roughly 30 percent said it was a fairly big 
challenge in trying to bring about SEL implementa¬ 
tion. Superintendents also see a lack of time as 
being a constant challenge and say it is the number 
one complaint they hear from their teachers. In many 


districts, teachers already have their plates full trying 
to meet stringent state-level academic standards 
and the perception is that SEL instruction is “just 
another mandate.” One review reported, however, 
that when SEL is effectively implemented, teachers 
end up needing to spend less time on classroom 
management - providing an initial proof point 
that bringing SEL into the classroom may provide 
teachers with more time to spend on academics 
(Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). 

A majority of principals also cited a lack of fund¬ 
ing dedicated to SEL as a challenge in trying to 
implement SEL, as well as a lack of reinforcement 
of social and emotional skills at home. Most impor¬ 
tantly, fewer than one in three of principals cite a 
lack of teacher consensus that SEL should be taught 
as being a challenge in bringing about SEL imple¬ 
mentation, and only one in four principals reported it 
not being a priority for their school district. 

“I would say we [provide professional 
development] limitedly... 

I think we provide most of the 
support to our school counselors and 
our social workers and we should 
probably expand it to more of our 
staff because they could benefit from 
it as well.” 

Superintendent 


30 Ready to Lead 




Snapshot: Austin Independent 
School District - Providing Proof 
to Get Results 

Austin Independent School District (ISD) serves 
a total of 82,766 students from Austin, the city of 
Sunset Valley, the village of San Leanna, and other 
unincorporated areas of Travis County. Boasting 
an ethnically diverse student population, Austin 
ISD’s students are 58 percent Hispanic, 27 percent 
white, and 8 percent Black. More than a quarter of 
students in Austin ISD are English Language Learn¬ 
ers (ELL). Fifty-three percent of students in Austin 
ISD qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, while 
10 percent are students with disabilities. 5 6 Austin 
ISD’s 2015 graduation rate was 90 percent, slightly 
above Texas’ 89 percent graduation rate. 

In Austin, systemic social and emotional learning 
is entering its second phase, and its first five years 
are paving the way for improved and deepened 
implementation for both students and adults. Austin 
was chosen as one of the first three sites in CASEL’s 
Collaborating Districts Initiative, starting with a team 
of four to bring SEL to scale in a small number of 
schools in 2011-12 before slowly expanding out to 
all schools in 2015-16. Each school has its own SEL 
facilitator, and in the 2017-18 school year, there will 
be two SEL facilitators at every school. The slow 
and steady approach to taking SEL district-wide has 
been key to its success in Austin. Here are a few of 
the key insights from Austin on SEL implementation: 

On implementing successfully: Going to scale 
immediately does not work. SEL leaders in the 
district were very strategic in learning what schools 
were doing and figuring out how to meet them 
where they were, and they credit strong site-based 
management within schools as being a critical 
component to getting SEL off the ground. They 
also took steps to make sure that SEL implementa¬ 
tion was treated as a learning process, and that 
administrators, teachers, and staff in each school felt 
supported, not shamed, when things went wrong. 


On providing proof for implementing SEL: 

Though there has been widespread acceptance 
of SEL in Austin, pockets of resistance remain, 
mainly from those who do not see the link between 
developing students’ social and emotional skills and 
improving their academic performance. They are 
tackling this by getting administrators and teachers 
to understand that even implementing small pieces 
of SEL will have benefits, and by showing them ways 
to integrate SEL into all types of lessons to reinforce 
competencies within academics. SEL leaders have 
also started turning to the brain science supporting 
the development of students’ social and emotional 
skills to help principals and teachers understand its 
value. This has been particularly important in getting 
school staff to see the impacts of trauma on many 
of their students, and moving them toward more 
restorative - not punitive - practices. 

On the challenges that remain: Austin has done 
well with fostering the social and emotional learning 
of students, but as they have moved through the 
implementation process, a realization grew that 
they needed to develop the SEL competencies of 
the adults in the district as well. As one SEL leader 
put it, “How can we expect adults to teach SEL 
when their SEL needs are not being met?” Getting 
adults into a healthy social and emotional place 
is a crucial piece of getting the school culture 
and climate into the right place and an essential 
part of enabling mutually respectful relationships 
throughout the building. It is also important in 
getting buy-in for SEL and for fostering an environ¬ 
ment where teachers can feel supported in taking 
calculated risks in their classrooms. 

For more on SEL in Austin, please visit: http://www. 

casel.org/partner-districts/austin-independent- 

school-district/ 


5 School district data retrieved from Department of Campus and District Accountability, “Fact Sheet, 2016-2017 School Year," 
Austin Independent School District, retrieved from https://www.austinisd.org/. 


Ready to Lead 31 





Assessing SEL 

Although administrators are optimistic that SEL skills can be accurately measured and 
believe SEL data would be useful, they are often unfamiliar with available measurement 
tools and are not using them school- or district-wide. To advance SEL assessment, 
improved understanding of what qualifies as a measure of SEL and better training in how 
to collect and use SEL data is needed. 


Most principals believe SEL skills 
can be accurately measured and 
assessed 

Most principals believe that social and emotional 
skills can be accurately measured and assessed. 

In all, 71 percent of principals believe it is definitely 
or probably true that students’ development and 
acquisition of social and emotional skills can be 
accurately measured and assessed, though just 15 
percent believe it is definitely true. More than half of 
principals (58 percent) believe social and emotional 
skills should be part of how students are assessed 
annually, but there is still some reservation about 
placing a larger emphasis on SEL assessment. 


Few administrators are familiar 
with current SEL assessments, 
understand what measures count 
in assessing SEL 

Fewer than one in five principals (17 percent) are 
very or fairly familiar with current assessments for 
measuring students’ social and emotional skills, 
while more than three in five (63 percent) say they 
are either not that familiar or not at all familiar with 
current SEL assessments. Principals in urban 
schools tend to be more familiar with current 
assessments than those in suburban and rural 
school districts—although, even in urban schools, 
only 27 percent of principals are very or fairly 
familiar (compared to 16 percent in suburban and 8 
percent in small town rural districts). Principals who 
reported higher levels of familiarity with current SEL 
assessments are more likely to be convinced of the 
ability to accurately assess students’ acquisition 


32 Ready to Lead 





Principals are optimistic that social and emotional skills can be assessed, 
but are not entirely convinced. 


■ Definitely true ■ Probably true ■ Definitely not true ■ Probably not true 



Students’ development and acquisition 
of social and emotional skills can be 
accurately measured and assessed 


71% 



of social and emotional skills. (Forty-two percent 
of those who are at least fairly familiar with SEL 
assessment believe it is definitely true that these 
skills can be assessed, compared to only 9 percent 
of those who are unfamiliar.) Principals’ knowledge 
of assessments is also correlated with their level of 
SEL implementation. Nearly half of principals who 
report being in high-implementing schools say they 
are familiar with current SEL assessments, while 
just eight and five percent of principals in moder¬ 
ate- and low-implementation schools, respectively, 
report the same. 

Superintendents also largely expressed a lack of 
familiarity with assessments of SEL competencies. 
Besides attempts to measure school climate, most 
superintendents said they are not really doing much 
to collect data on SEL skills in any formalized way, 
and describe themselves as unfamiliar with the exist¬ 
ing measures for doing so. More district research 
and evaluation specialists reported being familiar 
with SEL assessments, though a number said their 
familiarity was low. 

When asked what methods schools are currently 
using to assess students’ social and emotional skills, 
most principals (62 percent) pointed to behavioral 
observation in a normal classroom setting. More 
than half (55 percent) said they use administrative 


records on disciplinary actions. To a lesser extent, 
principals reported using teacher rating scales of 
students (38 percent), student self-report (26 per¬ 
cent), and performance assessment on a specific 
task or problem (15 percent). Just over 60 percent 
of principals use at least two of these methods 
to assess SEL. Nearly a quarter of principals (23 
percent) said their school does not assess social 
and emotional skills. Schools that do not assess 
students’ social and emotional skills are far more 
likely to be low-implementers of SEL: among low 
implementers, 43 percent do not assess SEL - 
compared to only 7 percent of high implementers. 

Superintendents report regularly analyzing disciplin¬ 
ary records or using routine classroom observation; 
however, most do not immediately identify these 
activities as measures of social and emotional 
learning. Some superintendents also described 
self-report surveys their schools administer, while 
others mentioned that younger students in their 
districts receive some kind of evaluation of their 
behavior or interpersonal skills on their report cards. 
Most superintendents, like principals, said that any 
SEL assessment data they are collecting is cur¬ 
rently being used to figure out which students may 
need extra support or to improve programming and 
instruction, but not for accountability. 


Ready to Lead 33 









A plurality of schools use their own discretionary criteria to determine 
which students to assess. 

We currently use assessments to assess social and emotional skills with the following students: 



Elementary School 

24% 

,6^ 

* 5 * 

13% 

c,e^ c 

0^ 

42% 

Middle/junior high 

22% 

9% 

46% 

High school 

21% 

9% 

41% 

SEL implementation 

High 

48% 

19% 

26% 

Moderate 

22% 

13% 

50% 

Low 

9% 

4% 

43% 




Even among research and evaluation special¬ 
ists, who would presumably have the greatest 
knowledge on assessing SEL, there is variation in 
understanding what measures count as assessing 
social and emotional competencies. Some said 
they were involved in tracking students’ disciplinary 
referrals, or that certain teachers in their district 
are required to record behavioral observations. 
Others, however, tend to be doing more to create 
ways to better understand how their schools are 
doing at developing students’ social and emotional 
competencies. Research and evaluation specialists, 
particularly those who are trained psychometricians, 
report that they have either developed or are in the 
beginning stages of developing their own in-house 
measures, such as student surveys or performance 
assessments on specific tasks. A few described 
crafting longitudinal studies built on surveys that are 
administered to students, staff, and/or parents on 
topics such as school climate and culture, as well 
as social and emotional health. The creation of in- 
house measures may be due to the customization 
factor it provides research and evaluation special¬ 
ists, though some also expressed being unsatisfied, 
skeptical of, or unfamiliar with commercially avail¬ 
able assessment tools. 


“We worked on, for the past couple 
years, a perception survey. They 
measure four constructs...one being 
climate and culture. That’s where 
some of your traditional safety stuff 
is going to be, and the multicultural 
aspects is going to be, but it also 
goes on to measure student moti¬ 
vation, student thinking, student 
engagement, and also perceptions 
about assessment construction... 

We have a student version - an 
elementary and a secondary student 
version. We have a parent/guardian 
version, and an instructional staff 
version. And we develop the forms 
to be parallel and we believe we are 
measuring the same constructs so 
we can make a comparison.” 

Research & Evaluation Specialist 


34 Ready to Lead 






There is room to improve the usefulness of current assessments. 

How useful are the assessments that you are currently using for evaluating students social and emotional skills? 


■ Very useful ■ Fairly useful ■ Somewhat useful ■ Not at all useful ■ Not that useful 



All principles currently Use assessments for Use assessments for 

using assessments (77%) all students (24%) some students (53%) 


Few principals are assessing ail 
students’ SEL development 

Only a quarter of principals (24 percent) are cur¬ 
rently assessing all students’ development of social 
and emotional skills. Eleven percent report assess¬ 
ing some students, based on age or grade level, 
while 42 percent said they assess some students 
based on other criteria. Schools rating high on SEL 
implementation are far more likely to be assessing 
all students than moderate- and low-implementing 
schools. Part of the discrepancy in who is receiv¬ 
ing SEL assessment can be attributed to the fact 
that more principals report using assessments to 
identify students needing intervention than for any 
other reason. Nearly 40 percent of principals said 
they use SEL assessments to determine students 
needing intervention, while just 18 percent said their 
teachers use it to improve instruction and 17 percent 
said they use SEL assessments to help evaluate 
the effectiveness of the SEL programs they have 
adopted. Less than 10 percent of principals are 
using assessments for either teacher (6 percent) or 
school (7 percent) accountability. 

More useful assessments, greater 
training in using SEL data needed 

Like research and evaluation specialists, many 
principals expressed skepticism over the usefulness 


of current SEL assessment tools. Of the 77 percent 
of school leaders who are currently using assess¬ 
ments, less than 40 percent said the assessments 
are very or fairly useful, while one in four see little to 
no usefulness in their current assessment measures. 
Breaking out the principals who are assessing all 
students versus those who only assess some stu¬ 
dents, however, shows a clear differentiation in how 
SEL assessments are viewed. Nearly 60 percent of 
principals in schools that assess all students’ SEL 
competencies find current assessments to be useful, 

“We talk about the importance of 
triangulation of data, so the more 
different ways we can come at some 
of these really difficult constructs, 
the better. It’s like a photograph: you 
can take a single photograph to try 
to tell a story, but a photo album with 
multiple photographs often will do a 
much better job telling a story. So, 
multiple sources of information are 
typically better than a single source.” 

Research & Evaluation Specialist 


Ready to Lead 35 

















Measuring SEL: The Assessment Work Group 

In a collaborative effort, CASEL has joined with leading researchers, educators, and policymakers 
from universities, school districts, and national organizations to establish an Assessment Work Group 
(AWG) to address and advance effective and practical assessment of social and emotional competen¬ 
cies from preschool to high school. With the support of seven funders, the AWG will be tackling critical 
issues educators face in using data to improve social and emotional learning over the next few years, 
and will specifically focus on four key areas: 

Enhancing Collaboration: Encouraging effective collaboration, communication, and networking 
in a rapidly growing field to optimize sharing of progress and reduce duplication of efforts. 
Clarifying Frameworks: Documenting similarities, differences, and potential alignments 
among the growing number of SEL-related frameworks that can guide both assessment and 
improvement efforts. 

Advancing Practical Assessment: Developing a guide to help educators select quality assess¬ 
ment tools and use data on students’ social and emotional competencies in practical ways and for 
appropriate purposes. 

Designing Direct Assessments: Identifying new ways to directly measure students’ social and 
emotional competencies through performance tasks in addition to self-reports or teacher ratings. 

The AWG, through its Measuring SEL website (https://measuringsel.casel.org) will host a series of 
weekly blogs, produce a number of briefs, engage a wide network of collaborators, publish an interac¬ 
tive Practical Guide for assessment of social and emotional competencies, and issue State of the 
Field reports. The AWG has already launched its first Design Challenge, with over 20 innovative and 
emerging direct measures of SEL competing for awards and helping to frame critical design principals 
for SEL assessment. 


compared to less than 30 percent of principals in 
schools only assessing some students. 

Research and evaluation specialists express some 
caveats around the usefulness and applicability 
of currently available SEL measures. Many stated 
that student self-report is useful to an extent - since 
perception is reality in many ways - but that it is 
important to minimize social desirability bias as 
much as possible. Regarding teacher ratings of 
students, there is also some fear that teachers 
may exhibit bias, thus making incorrect inferences 
about their students. There is also concern teachers 
may lack the larger context needed to truly assess 
students on these measures. For this reason, it 
is critical that schools consider marrying multiple 
measures together instead of relying on one source 
for assessment. 

Principals also see a great need for better teacher 
training in using SEL assessment data. Three out 
of five (61 percent) believe teachers in their school 


have little to no knowledge of how to use SEL 
assessment data to improve their instruction. Con¬ 
versely, fewer than one in five (16 percent) said that 
they think their teachers have either a great deal or 
fair amount of knowledge of using SEL assessment 
data to improve their instruction. Urban school prin¬ 
cipals and those in high-SEL-implementing schools 
were far more likely to report that their teachers 
knew how to use assessment data to improve their 
instruction—although still only 24 percent of urban 
principals and 44 percent of high implementers 
believe their teachers have at least a fair amount of 
knowledge on how to use assessment data 

Principals see many uses for SEL 
assessment data; hold mixed 
views on SEL accountability 

Given the assumption that they had access to valid 
and reliable assessments for measuring students’ 
social and emotional skills, principals believe 


36 Ready to Lead 




Principals hold mixed views on SEL accountability. 


■ Definitely true ■ Probably true ■ Definitely not true ■ Probably not true 


Schools should be rated in part 
based on if and how they are 
improving students’ social and 
emotional skills 

56% 



Teachers should be held accountable 
for students' development of social 
and emotional skills 


49% 


51% 



there are a number of important uses for the data 
it would produce. An overwhelming majority of 
principals said they would use SEL assessments to 
identify students needing intervention (86 percent) 
or evaluate the effectiveness of SEL skills programs 
(79 percent). More than 70 percent said they could 
share the data with parents (73 percent) or use the 
assessments to improve teacher instruction (72 
percent). In the eyes of principals, SEL assess¬ 
ment data is far less important for accountability 
purposes. Half of school leaders said they think it 
would be important to report data from the assess¬ 
ments to the district, and even fewer would use the 
data to hold schools accountable for developing 
students’ social and emotional competencies (34 
percent) or evaluate teachers based on the assess¬ 
ments (28 percent). 

The accountability piece is where principals tend 
to express wariness of SEL assessment data and 
how it should be used. About half of school leaders 
(49 percent) believe that teachers should be held 
accountable for students’ development of social and 
emotional skills, but the other half disagree. And just 
a small portion of all principals - 13 percent - are 
strongly in favor. The response was similar on the 
question of whether schools should be rated on 
their development of students’ social and emotional 
skills, though even fewer principals responded 
in agreement (44 percent). Support for holding 
teachers accountable and rating students on SEL 
skills was stronger from urban school principals, 
high-implementers, and those who believe that SEL 


“A bigger concern is that teacher 
ratings seem like they could be 
subjective per teacher, and not as 
objective as they could be. You’d 
like to say no teacher thinks a kid 
is worse than they are, or recom¬ 
mends medication for a kid who 
doesn’t need it, but it does happen. 
Teachers are people and sometimes 
their professional opinion may be 
skewed. Things that have checks 
and balances...I don’t think it’s 
necessarily invaluable, there just 
has to be a counterbalance to it, 
like self-reports.” 

Research & Evaluation Specialist 

can be measured (see Appendix IV for complete 
details). 

In an ideal world - one in which they have con¬ 
fidence in the reliability of their measurement 
instruments - research and evaluation specialists 
would like to see SEL assessment data used first 
and foremost for formative assessment and program 
evaluation. Like principals, research and evaluation 
specialists have mixed views on assessing teach- 


Ready to Lead 37 










ers on developing students’ social and emotional 
development. Some said they would love to see the 
day when measures are strong enough to be used 
to determine which teachers are not serving their 
students’ SEL skills development, while others see 
this as a step too far and worry that SEL measure¬ 
ment is too subjective to be used as a punitive tool. 

Principals support inclusion of 
SEL in state education standards 

School leaders feel more positively about the 
inclusion of social and emotional skills in their state 
standards. Seventy-three percent of principals 
believe the development of social and emotional 
competencies should definitely or probably be 
explicitly stated in their state education standards - 
more than the 62 percent of teachers that said the 
same in the 2013 survey. There is support for state 
SEL standards from principals at all grade levels, 
though elementary school principals (76 percent) 
are more strongly in favor than middle (66 percent) 
and high (69 percent) school leaders. Urban and 
suburban school principals are more in favor of 
state SEL standards than principals in small town 
and rural schools (see Appendix IV for complete 
details). Principals in schools that score high on 
SEL implementation (85 percent) are more likely to 
support state SEL standards, though a large majority 
of moderate (76 percent) and low implementers 
(62 percent) of SEL are also in favor. The greatest 
discrepancy of support for state SEL standards 
comes between principals who believe SEL can 
be measured and those who do not. Seventy-nine 
percent of school leaders who trust in SEL measure¬ 
ment believe the development of students’ social 
and emotional skills should be included in state 
standards, compared to 58 percent of those who do 
not believe SEL can be measured. 


Those who have more experience 
with SEL are more likely to believe it 
should be part of state standards 

Do you believe that the development of social and 
emotional skills should be explicitly stated in your 
state’s education standards? 

73% 

■ ■ Definitely should be 

■ Probably should be 
■ Probably should not be 
■ Definitely should not be 

27% 


25% IIH 

ra 9% 


38 Ready to Lead 






Snapshot: Washoe County School 
District - Factoring SEL into Student 
Success 

Washoe County School District is the 2 nd largest school 
district in the state of Nevada, serving 63,919 students 
in the cities of Reno and Sparks, as well as the com¬ 
munities of Verdi, Incline Village, and Gerlach. Students 
at Washoe County SD are 45 percent white, 2 percent 
Black, and 40 percent Hispanic. Forty-seven percent of 
students in Washoe County School District qualify for free 
or reduced-price lunch, while 14 percent are students 
with disabilities and 15 percent are English Language 
Learners. 6 While Washoe’s graduation rate was just 77 
percent in 2016, this is 6 percentage points higher than 
Nevada’s graduation rate. 

Washoe County School District joined CASEL’s CDI 
in 2012, becoming one of the initiative’s original eight 
districts. In Washoe, there has been a philosophical 
agreement since the start that emphasizing social and 
emotional learning is good for students, but to ensure 
continued buy-in, the district has turned to improved data 
collection on SEL and connecting it to key student out¬ 
comes. A big part of what has made Washoe County SD a 
leader in SEL data and assessment among CDI districts is 
that it is already a data-rich district, but getting the system 
right for using SEL data is still an ongoing process. 

Connecting SEL data to student outcomes: Washoe, 
like other districts, has been collecting data on early 
warning indicators, including attendance, credit attain¬ 
ment, and transiency, in one recent school year, the 
early warning indicator data showed that 90 percent of 
students that had no risk factors in the 9 th grade graduated 
high school on time, while only 30 percent of students 
who exhibited risk factors in the 9 th grade did. To better 
understand why this was happening and connect it to 
what was known about students’ social and emotional 
skills, research and evaluation specialists in the district 
decided to administer a student survey to understand if 
SEL factors were at play in why students did or did not 
graduate on time. It took the district three years to refine 
the survey, but the journey has been an enlightening 
one. Washoe has been able to link certain SEL factors, 
including student resiliency, to graduating high school 
on time, and at the same time, opened up a new avenue 
for communicating about SEL with both students and 
teachers. During the survey refining process, it was 
learned that students wanted time to reflect on the survey 


results, so structures were built in to include students in 
the conversation to understand how they approached the 
survey. Student focus groups also helped write survey 
items. The effort to create a high-quality survey and create 
usable data has also lead to better teacher conversations 
on SEL and more school teams wanting to build SEL into 
their instruction. Though the SEL survey is not yet ready to 
be part of an accountability system, it is bringing teachers, 
students, and administrators together around SEL and 
providing critical information to help understand what can 
be done to keep kids in school and on track to graduation. 

Challenges in using SEL data: Though Washoe is lead¬ 
ing the way in developing strong SEL assessments and 
linking it to academic outcomes, the path has not been 
without its challenges. The district has developed an 
SEL data website and student profile pages, but leaders 
have wrestled with how to present the data so it does 
not become a site showing students how they are failing. 
At the classroom level, they are still trying to figure out 
how to assess SEL instruction in a meaningful way. Data 
specialists have also had to confront the data fatigue 
many educators have experienced in recent years and 
questions over whether SEL competencies can actually 
be measured or changed. The data on SEL, however, 
has also helped gain buy-in and given leaders in the 
district guidance on how to thoughtfully use it to continue 
to carefully figure out next steps in SEL assessment that 
will benefit students and teachers. 

Making parents a partner in SEL: Washoe County SD 
has made parents a key partner in their SEL implementa¬ 
tion to reinforce at home what is happening in schools. 
The SEL team offers one-hour SEL parent university 
classes to help parents better understand SEL, and, at 
the request of individual schools, has provided about 50 
of these classes each year. The district has also opened 
up their SEL mini-conferences for teachers to parents. 
The mini-conferences take place once a quarter in the 
evening and provide SEL instruction and materials to 
teachers, and as of this year, parents as well. To better 
meet the needs of those attending, the district provides 
free day care and dinner to participants. Including 
parents in SEL implementation is just one more step to 
ensuring SEL remains a large part of the fabric of what 
Washoe County SD is trying to achieve. 

For more on SEL in Washoe County, please visit: 

http://www.casel.org/partner-districts/washoe-county- 

school-district/ 


6 School District data retrieved from Washoe County School District, “2016-2017 Characteristics & Performance,” retrieved from 
http://www.washoeschools.net/washoeschools. 


Ready to Lead 39 




CASEL’s Collaborating 
States Initiative 

In 2016, CASEL launched the Collaborating States 
Initiative (CSI) to actively partner with states that wish 
to develop policies or guidelines that support imple¬ 
mentation of quality SEL. The CSI is a collaborative 
learning community comprised of state SEL teams 
and an advisory group of leaders and experts in the 
field who want to learn from each other as each state 
works to advance SEL implementation. Since each 
state has their own unique priorities and needs, 
CASEL encourages states to develop a plan that will 
create the conditions to meet the distinct needs of 
its students. CASEL then supports states by sharing 
findings from research and best practices on SEL 
implementation, as well as technical assistance to 
any states that request it. 

The CSI confirmed that there is a powerful demand 
for SEL at the state level. Forty states expressed 
interest in the CSI and for guidance on promoting 
evidence-based SEL practices. This enthusiasm led 
CASEL to initially team with 17 states through the CSI. 

Nevada is one of the states CASEL has teamed with 
through the CSI. While the state has made signifi¬ 
cant progress in recent years, one education leader 
in the state was clear that Nevada still has a great 
deal of work to do and that they’re behind several 
states in terms of SEL implementation. 

Nevada presents an interesting case study for 
systematic SEL implementation. The state has just 
17 different school districts, yet they are incredibly 
diverse. Districts range from large, muiti-high school 
districts like Washoe County and Clark County 
School District (Las Vegas), one of the largest 
districts in the nation, to districts as small as Esmer¬ 
alda School District that educates fewer than 100 
students across 3 elementary schools. 

Nevada’s pursuit of statewide SEL began during the 
2013 legislative session when the state was asked to 
work on statewide bullying prevention. This focused 
on promoting social skills and improving school 
climate to prevent bullying and cyber-bullying. The 
legislature provided funding for training to begin this 
work, and a federal Safe Schools Grant provided 
further resources. In the 2015 legislative session, 
Nevada created the Office of Safe and Respectful 


Learning Environment. The state also received 
Project Aware and School Climate Transformation 
Grants, and intentionally wrote SEL into each. These 
grants were partially used to create a statewide SEL 
climate survey using the framework established in 
Washoe County. They also used the grants to fund 
mental health support workers, including social 
workers, counselors, and community health workers. 

More recently, Nevada wrote SEL into their strategic 
plan and ESSA plan. The state has also laid out two 
strategic goals: to develop multi-tiered layers of SEL 
supports in each district and to build SEL competen¬ 
cies for students and adults. The state is currently in 
the process of writing SEL state standards with the 
intention to adopt them by November, with technical 
assistance training ready by that time as well. The 
state plans to train school social workers and state 
management teams, as well as partner with state 
health organizations and workers. 

Education leaders in Nevada report that being in the 
CSI has been helpful as they work to implement SEL 
throughout the state. The CSI initiative has provided 
critical guidance and resources and helped con¬ 
tinue to build traction at the state and district level. 

For more on CASEL’s CSI, please visit: http://www. 
casel.org/collaborative-state-initiative/ 


40 Ready to Lead 



In 2013, teachers reported their belief that schools should focus on developing all students’ 
social and emotional skills, and that doing so will have a positive impact on students, adults, 
and the overall culture and climate of the school. This study shows that these beliefs are 
mutually held by principals, superintendents, and research and evaluation specialists, who 
overwhelmingly understand that SEL has a vital role to play in K-12 education today. In 
spite of the widespread support for SEL, however, there is a disconnect between the way 
administrators view SEL in theory and how it is being integrated in practice. It is within this 
disconnect that the most significant findings exist and a path forward emerges. 


Key Findings 

1 Principals value SEL, but need greater 
knowledge and support to effectively 
implement school-wide, evidence-based 
SEL programming. 

Principals are on board with SEL, and they strongly 
believe that developing students’ social and emo¬ 
tional skills will promote a positive school climate, 
improve relationships, decrease bullying, and raise 
academic achievement. Interviews with superin¬ 
tendents and research and evaluation specialists 
revealed the same recognition of the link between 
SEL and improved outcomes. What school leaders 
need, however, is a better understanding of how to 
effectively implement school-wide SEL program¬ 
ming, access to training for themselves and their 
teachers on how to develop implementation plans 
and use SEL assessments and data, and support 


from district leaders, state policymakers, research¬ 
ers, and many others. Filling in that missing link will 
be essential to taking SEL from theory to action. 

2 When superintendents and other 

district leaders are driving SEL and 
implementation is high, successful 
outcomes are much more likely. 

Support for SEL from the highest levels of dis¬ 
trict leadership results in widespread systemic 
implementation, engages more stakeholders, and 
is perceived as being much more successful. 
However, just one-quarter of principals said their 
district leadership places a great deal of emphasis 
on SEL, and less than half said their district requires 
all schools to have a plan for implementing SEL. In 
total, only one-quarter of principals are in schools 
that could be considered high-implementers of SEL, 
but in districts where central office leaders place a 


Ready to Lead 41 




high level of emphasis on SEL, that number jumps 
to more than half. In schools where implementation 
is high (based on CASEL’s benchmarks), principals 
report greater academic success, an increased 
ability by students to apply knowledge to real world 
situations and to think and reason critically, in 
addition to an improved school environment, and 
superintendents see the same. Having support from 
district leadership is a significant piece in getting 
the ball rolling and providing a strong foundation for 
SEL implementation. Given the tendency for superin¬ 
tendent and principal turnover, especially in lower- 
performing school districts, it is also important that 
superintendents eager to implement SEL make it a 
priority to engage in- and out-of-school stakehold¬ 
ers and build a stable base to ensure it is carried 
forward regardless of a change in leadership. 

3 A lack of time and teacher training - in 
both pre-service education and in-school 
professional development - are critical 
barriers to implementing SEL. 

Teachers in 2013 and principals today know that 
time is in limited supply during the school day, and 
adding more to an already full schedule can lead to 
initiative fatigue. On top of this, more often than not, 
teachers come into schools with little to no training in 
developing students’ social and emotional skills, and 
a lack of resources adds to the challenge of imple¬ 
menting SEL. These are significant barriers leaders 
of any school or district must face, but not ones that 
cannot be overcome. Administrators that are already 
implementing SEL feel far more confident in their 
teachers’ ability to teach SEL and are successfully 
incorporating SEL training into their professional 
development. In addition, an overwhelming majority 
of principals believe teachers in their schools would 
be open to greater emphasis on SEL, opening the 
door to the foundational support successful imple¬ 
mentation efforts are built upon. 

4 School and district leaders are open 
to having better data on students’ social 
and emotional competencies to improve 
school-wide SEL programming and student 
outcomes, but need better training to do so. 

The verdict on current SEL assessments is mixed, 
and for most administrators, figuring out the “why” 
of assessment is as important as determining 


the “how.” It is clear that most administrators are 
hesitant about using SEL assessments as a means 
for student or teacher accountability, but as a 
teaching and learning tool, most administrators do 
not have a concrete plan of action for assessing 
students’ social and emotional competencies. 
Though most principals report optimism around 
the ability to assess SEL, most are not assessing 
all students, choosing instead to target specific 
students to determine further interventions. And 
less than one in five principals say their teachers 
use it to improve instruction - missing out on a 
valuable learning tool to guide teachers on how to 
teach all their students better. 

In answering the “how” of SEL assessment, most 
administrators express a great deal of uncertainty on 
what measures count as SEL measures and whether 
the tools that currently exist are providing meaningful 
data. Many describe using behavioral observations 
and tracking discipline records - tools that schools 
have long used to identify students for interven¬ 
tions - and others are developing school culture 
and climate surveys. Few, however, have created 
or adopted SEL assessments that could provide a 
deeper understanding of how their school is far¬ 
ing at developing students’ social and emotional 
skills or the larger impacts of emphasizing SEL. 
Administrators also express concern over whether 
teachers have the knowledge to properly assess 
SEL and if their biases may cloud the accuracy of 
some assessments, though those concerns diminish 
in those who are already implementing SEL at a 
high level. The good news on assessments is that 
most administrators already understand the value 
that SEL data can hold, and there are research and 
evaluation specialists out there developing custom¬ 
ized in-house measures that can really get at the 
data administrators and teachers can use to improve 
teaching and learning. The future of SEL assess¬ 
ments largely lies in developing better understand¬ 
ing of what SEL systemic implementation looks 
like across schools and districts and providing the 
training and support principals and teachers need to 
fully carry it out. 


42 Ready to Lead 


Recommendations 

Sustain Social, Emotional, and Academic 
Development through High-Impact Levers 

Enhance the “will” - Prioritize policies and 
funding to support SEL 

To help schools advance social and emotional 
learning and systemize SEL at all levels of practice 
and policy, federal and state policymakers, as well 
as grantmakers in education, will need to prioritize 
policies and funding for SEL implementation, assess¬ 
ment, and training. Funding considerations should 
include resources, technical assistance, evaluation, 
and the creation of learning networks between 
districts and states. Funding streams for increased 
research will also be critical for expanding knowledge 
and creating lines for SEL advocacy. Policy action 
should include advancing new federal policies to 
promote SEL and alloting resources toward its growth 
in both PreK-12 and higher education, in addition 
to adopting state SEL standards. 

Support state student learning standards 

State leaders should heed the calls of the nearly 
three-quarters of principals who believe the devel¬ 
opment of social and emotional competencies 
should be explicitly stated in their state education 
standards. State SEL standards can provide a vision 
for what social and emotional learning programs 
should accomplish and developmental benchmarks 
to inform teachers and principals of what students 
should be working toward in every grade. State SEL 
standards can also serve as guidance for institutes 
of higher education by providing the groundwork 
for integrating SEL into pre-service teacher train¬ 
ing programs. Unlike academic standards, which 
have served as a basis for accountability systems, 
SEL standards should be used solely to improve 
teaching and learning and guide investments in SEL 
programming. State leaders looking to adopt SEL 
standards can look to states like Illinois, Kansas, and 
West Virginia, which have each established compre¬ 
hensive SEL goals with developmental benchmarks. 

Advance an SEL research agenda and 
communicate findings to practitioners 
and policymakers 

For years, CASEL and others have established 
a broad group of collaborators to advance SEL 
research, and leading experts from around the 


world have contributed to the evidence base on 
high-quality SEL programming and its outcomes. 

The launch of the National Commission on Social, 
Emotional, and Academic Development in late 2016 
has provided an additional, centralized platform to 
move forward various research streams in the field, 
and the Assessment Work Group, a collaborative of 
researchers and practitioners, is working to improve 
approaches to SEL assessment. These efforts are 
critical to providing school and district leaders with 
the knowledge and resources they need to choose 
high-quality programming, integrating SEL into the 
academic curriculum, and evaluating its impacts, but 
more must be done to inform best practices, guide 
teacher training and professional development, and 
establish valid and reliable metrics for SEL assess¬ 
ment. Based on this study, we recommend further 
research in the following areas: the link between 
improving SEL skills and academic achievement; 
the impact of improved training on SEL implementa¬ 
tion; the benefits of integrated and stand-alone SEL 
approaches; and how data on SEL can be used 
effectively by teachers to improve instruction, by 
principals to improve school climate, and by districts 
to better prepare all youth for success in school, 
postsecondary, careers, and life. 

Strengthen SEL Training among Teachers 
and Administrators 

Build the knowledge base on evidence-based 
SEL programming and effective training, 
implementation, and assessment. 

While this study makes clear that school and district 
leaders value the development of their students’ 
social and emotional competencies, they need a 
better understanding of how best to improve these 
skills in students and create a systemic plan for 
SEL implementation. It is critical that administrators 
and teachers have access to a knowledge base on 
effective SEL programming and training in how to 
effectively integrate SEL into academic instruction 
and school climate improvement initiatives. Even in 
districts where SEL is already being implemented, 
there is still a need to provide evidence of its effects 
and link to raising academic outcomes. 

There is also a clear lack of training in effective SEL 
implementation and using SEL assessments and 
data for improvement and program evaluation. It is 
essential that researchers and program leaders in 


Ready to Lead 43 


the SEL field develop common guidance to schools 
on evidence-based classroom and school-wide 
programs, training, and assessment tools that are 
widely available to administrators to better ensure 
they are aware of all available high-quality options 
and can avoid those that are of lesser quality. 
Administrators and teachers could also benefit from 
exposure to SEL in practice, so to better spread 
best practices, schools and districts that are already 
implementing with success should serve as SEL 
learning hubs. 

Build teacher knowledge through pre-service 
education and in-school professional develop¬ 
ment and support adult SEL. 

There is mutual agreement between teachers and 
administrators that greater training in teaching and 
assessing SEL is a critical component to ensuring 
successful implementation, but not enough teachers 
have been provided with that training. On one side 
of this issue is that there is currently not enough SEL 
training within teacher education programs. Though 
there is a child development component to any high- 
quality teacher preparation program, few, if any, aim 
to develop teachers’ knowledge of their own social 
and emotional skills or how to develop and assess 
students’ social and emotional competencies. Inte¬ 
grating SEL into pre-service teacher training will go 
a long way to guaranteeing more teachers come into 
the classroom with the knowledge they need to suc¬ 
cessfully promote SEL. In the absence of SEL train¬ 
ing for pre-service teachers, schools will still need 
to deliver high-quality professional development, 
and even in the event of expanded SEL instruction 
in teacher preparation programs, ongoing training 
for teachers will remain a critical component of any 
systemic plan for SEL implementation. High-quality 
training should include exposure to evidence-based 
research and best practices, instruction in how to 
integrate SEL into the core academic curriculum and 
how to measure and assess SEL, and coaching on 
how to develop their own SEL competencies. 


Strengthen Assessment 

Continue to improve SEL assessment tools and 
training in how to use them. 

It is clear that educators lack both a familiarity 
with available measures of SEL and access to 
high-quality assessments, particularly those that 
can be customized to meet their needs, as well as 
training in how to use SEL assessment data. While 
principals see the value in collecting and report¬ 
ing SEL data, some hesitation around assessing 
SEL may be due to a fear of holding teachers and 
schools accountable for developing students’ SEL 
skills. However, those that are already assessing 
SEL, whether through culture and climate surveys 
or building upon currently existing measures to 
help students develop the SEL skills they lack, can 
provide models for assessment that do not make 
students and teachers targets of punitive account¬ 
ability. These districts can show others how to cre¬ 
ate valid assessments and use the data to improve 
teaching and learning. In addition, researchers 
in the field should continue to study assessment 
measures to provide knowledge and guidance 
on available tools, and funders and policymakers 
should prioritize improving SEL measurements. 


44 Ready to Lead 


Conclusion 


S ocial and emotional learning is, in many ways, not a new concept. Developmental theory 
has been at the core of American education for more than a century, and educators 
have long supported the social and emotional development of their students through 
informal means. Despite this, social and emotional learning has far too often been relegated to 
the sidelines in favor of a relentless focus on academics. In recent years, however, researchers 
and educators have made a push to restore emphasis on SEL and realign social and emotional 
development alongside academic learning. This effort has been backed by a growing body of 
evidence that shows effective implementation of SEL leads to more positive outcomes for young 
people and can greatly improve the culture and climate of a school. 


On the ground, administrators and teachers implementing SEL are seeing its effects, but there is 
still much work to be done to ensure educators have access to high-quality SEL programming, 
guidance on how to implement SEL school- and district-wide, and tools for assessing SEL to 
achieve the greatest outcomes. Schools of education need to prioritize social and emotional learn¬ 
ing in teacher education and ensure future teachers understand the social and emotional needs 
of their students and themselves. SEL researchers need to build on the current evidence base, 
get proof of impact into the hands of policymakers and leaders from the state down to the school, 
and work with schools to establish best practices in implementation and assessment. School and 
district leaders need to create an environment where social and emotional learning is valued, work 
with teachers and staff to create a plan and shared vision for SEL that meets the needs of both 
students and adults, and devote time and resources to support effective implementation. And 
schools, districts, and states that have invested in social and emotional learning should serve as 
learning models for others starting out on the path to SEL and help build the practical understand¬ 
ing of what it takes to effectively implement social and emotional learning and make it a priority 
for in- and out-of-school stakeholders. 


Advancing social and emotional learning will require a significant shift in our approach to raising 
academic achievement and improving schools, and it will take a concerted effort from educa¬ 
tors, researchers, policymakers, families, community providers, and others to make the effective 
promotion of SEL a lasting reality. But as this report and others have shown, the will to advance 
SEL exists among administrators and teachers, who understand its value and are already seeing 
its benefits. Social and emotional learning is not a fad; it has always been at the heart of educa¬ 
tion, and now is the time to make sure it is treated as such. 


Ready to Lead 45 


Acknowledgements 

C ASEL, together with Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Research Associates, would like to 
give special thanks to everyone who contributed to this report. Specifically, we would like 
to thank each of the following: the CASEL Board, Staff, and collaborators, especially Tim 
Shriver, Board Chair; Karen Niemi, President & CEO; Roger Weissberg, Chief Knowledge Officer; 
Jeremy Taylor, Director of Assessment & Continuous Improvement; Karen VanAusdal, Director of 
Practice; Joseph Mahoney, Director of Translational Science; and Dale Blyth, Assessment Work 
Group Consultant. 

We would also like to thank CASEL’s generous funders who supported this report and the work 
featured within it, including NoVo Foundation; S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; Einhorn Family 
Charitable Trust; Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation; Overdeck Family Foundation; Pure Edge, 
Inc.; Raikes Foundation; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Spencer Foundation; and the 
Wallace Foundation. 

We are also grateful for the hard work and dedication of Adam Kernan-Schloss and Nancy 
Zuckerbrod of the KSA-Plus Communications team; Kathleen McMahon, Chief of Staff at Civic 
Enterprises; and the team at Hart Research Associates: Geoff Garin, President; Corrie Hunt, 

Vice President; Annie Norbitz, Analyst; and Sandra Markowitz, Assistant Analyst. 

CASEL, together with Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Associates, would also like to thank 
the more than 900 principals, superintendents, and research and evaluation specialists who 
participated in the national survey and individual interviews. They shared their thoughts and 
reflections with honesty and integrity. We are especially grateful for the educators from 
Anchorage, Alaska; Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; and Washoe County, Nevada, as 
well as state education leaders from Nevada for their invaluable contributions to this report. 


46 Ready to Lead 


Appendix I Methodology 

In February and March 2017, principals, superintendents, 
and research and evaluation specialists were asked to 
participate in surveys and individual interviews to assess the 
role and value of developing students' social and emotional 
skills in America’s schools. The nationwide web survey was 
conducted from February 21 to March 14, 2017 among 884 
kindergarten through 12 th grade public school principals. The 
margin of error is +/- 3.4 percentage points in the full survey 
sample and higher among subgroups. Slight weights were 
applied to ensure that the sample matched principal and 
school characteristics of public school principals, according 
to NCES data. We are confident that the survey sample, 
once weighted, represents a true national sample of public 
school principals in America. 

The survey was informed by the prior instrument created 
in 2013 to assess teachers’ perceptions of the role and 
value of social and emotional learning. This allowed for 
cross-comparison on several questions. The survey was 
appropriately adjusted to meet the role of administrators in 
SEL implementation, as well as to gauge their beliefs and 
understanding of SEL assessment, which was not a part of 
the original survey. Survey development was also shaped by 
discussions with and feedback from researchers in the social 
and emotional learning field. 

For the study, we also interviewed a total of 16 superinten¬ 
dents, four from each of the National Center for Education 
Statistics school geographic locales (large city, suburban, 
small city/town, and rural areas), and 10 research and evalu¬ 
ation specialists from small and large city school districts. 

The superintendents and research and evaluation specialists 
represented the Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. Six 
superintendents lead districts with student populations that 
are at least 25 percent Hispanic, and six lead districts that 
are at least 10 percent Black. Eleven superintendents are 
from districts that are more than 50 percent free/reduced 
lunch. The research and evaluation specialists have job titles 
including: Director of Research and Evaluation; Director of 
Assessment and Evaluation; Director of Data, Research, 
and Accountability; Chief of Research and Accountability 
Officer. Three come from districts that are at least 25 percent 
Hispanic, and seven are from districts that are at least 10 
percent Black. Nine of the ten research and evaluation 
specialists have 10+ years of experience in the field. One 
superintendent and one research and evaluation specialist 
interviewed are in a CASEL CDI school district. 

Characteristics of the Survey Sample 

The following profile of the 884 principals interviewed for this 
survey reveals a sample that is representative of America’s 
public school principals in terms of their own demographic 
characteristics and the diverse schools in which they lead. 


School Characteristics 

GRADE RANGE 


Elementary School 

55% 

Middle/Junior High School 

16% 

High School 

20% 

K-8 orK-12 

9% 

LOCALE CODE 


Urban 

36% 

Suburban 

22% 

Small town/Rural 

42% 

FREE/REDUCED LUNCH 


Less than 40% 

29% 

40-79% 

46% 

80% or more 

25% 

SCHOOL TYPE 


Regular Public School 

91% 

Public Magnet or Charter 

9% 

GEOGRAPHIC REGION 


Northeast 

18% 

South 

34% 

Midwest 

23% 

West 

25% 

STUDENT ENROLLMENT 


Less than 250 

17% 

250-499 

36% 

500-749 

25% 

750 or more 

22% 

LOW-PERFORMING 


Currently rated 

20% 

Recently rated 

14% 

Not rated 

66% 


Principal Characteristics 

GENDER 


Women 

53% 

Men 

47% 

AGE 

Under age 45 

36% 

Age 45 to 54 

36% 

Age 55 or older 

28% 

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE 

5 or fewer 

37% 

6-15 

46% 

16 or more 

17% 

RACE/ETHNICITY 

White 

84% 

Black 

7% 

Hispanic 

7% 

Other 

2% 


Ready to Lead 47 













Appendix II 

Findings from The Missing Piece: A National Teacher Survey on How 
Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower Children and Trans¬ 
form Schools 


In 2013, with the support of CASEL, Civic Enter¬ 
prises teamed with Hart Research Associates to ask 
teachers on the front lines of schools their opinions 
on social and emotional learning. The resulting 
report, The Missing Piece, shared the findings 
from a nationally representative sample of 605 
educators from preschool through 12 th -grade. The 
responses were resounding: teachers understood 
and endorsed social and emotional learning for all 
students, and believed in its ability to help students 
achieve in school and in life. 

Nearly all teachers (93 percent) surveyed believed 
SEL is “very” or “fairly” important for the in-school 
student experience. Even more teachers (95 per¬ 
cent) believed that social and emotional skills can 
be taught, and 97 percent reported that SEL would 
benefit students from all backgrounds, rich or poor. 
Importantly, three in every four teachers believed 
a large focus on SEL would be a major benefit to 
students for a variety of reasons, including: 

Workforce readiness (87 percent); 

Students becoming good citizens (87 percent); 

Students’ staying on track to graduate (80 percent); 

College preparation (78 percent); and 

Academic success (75 percent). 

While 88 percent of teachers reported SEL occur¬ 
ring in their schools on some level, less than half 
(44 percent) said social and emotional skills were 
being taught on a school-wide, programmatic basis. 
When asked about barriers to teaching SEL in their 
schools, 81 percent ranked time as the biggest 


challenge to implementing SEL, while 36 percent 
of teachers noted a lack of training and knowledge 
of how to teach social and emotional skills as a big 
challenge. Another 30 percent of teachers believed 
their schools place too little emphasis on developing 
students’ social and emotional skills. Encouragingly, 
however, four in five teachers reported interest in 
receiving further training and nearly six in every 10 
teachers believed schools should place a great deal 
of emphasis on developing students’ social and 
emotional skills. 

The Missing Piece also found that teachers were 
calling for their states to prioritize SEL, as more 
than three in five teachers (62 percent) thought 
the development of social and emotional skills 
should explicitly be stated in their state education 
standards. Teachers also identified three other key 
accelerators for social and emotional learning: 
Connecting social and emotional skills with the 
Common Core State Standards; 

Providing additional professional development for 
teachers; and 

Sharing research-based strategies about effective 
ways to promote students’ social and emotional 
skills. 

In The Missing Piece, teachers confirmed what 
the evidence was already saying: that social and 
emotional skills can be taught and SEL is a power¬ 
ful tool, capable of boosting students’ academic 
performance and future life success. 


48 Ready to Lead 


Appendix III 

CASEL’s Collaborating Districts Initiative 


In 2011, CASEL embarked on an effort to put 
research into action and launched the first-of-its 
kind Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) — a 
partnership between CASEL, the American Institute 
for Research (AIR), and initially eight large school 
districts across the country: Anchorage, AK; Austin, 
TX; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Nashville, TN; Oak¬ 
land, CA; Sacramento, CA; and Washoe County, NV. 
Today, with Atlanta and El Paso subsequently joining 
the collaborative, the CDI now includes 10 school 
districts representing more than one million students 
in some of the nation’s most geographically, eco¬ 
nomically, and ethnically diverse communities. 

The CDI was built on the belief that positive student 
outcomes rely on improving classrooms and 
schools, which in turn depend on improving district¬ 
wide capacities to bring SEL to all students. The CDI 
attempts to shift the focus of SEL implementation 
from schools to entire districts to align SEL with dis¬ 
trict priorities, integrate it with academic instruction, 
make it an essential piece of a child’s education, 
and achieve two complimentary goals: 

To develop districts’ capacities to plan, imple¬ 
ment, and monitor systemic changes that will 
impact schools and classrooms in ways that 
enhance students’ social-emotional development 
and academic performance; and 

To document lessons learned that can inform 
future efforts to support systemic SEL implemen¬ 
tation in districts across the country. 


To aid districts’ attempting to implement system- 
wide SEL, CASEL created the following comprehen¬ 
sive district framework: 

Communicate SEL as a priority to stakeholders; 
Develop a district-wide vision and plan; 

Align financial and human resources; 

Build expertise and capacity; 

Conduct SEL-related resources and 
needs assessment; 

Design and implement professional development 
programs; 

Integrate SEL with district initiatives, such as 
academic curriculum and equity efforts; 

Adopt and implement evidence-based 
programming; 

Develop K-12 SEL standards; and 
Establish systems of continuous improvement. 

Every district in the CDI has faced their own unique 
challenges to implementing system-wide SEL and 
is at different points of the process. This report 
will highlight stories from four districts on their 
experience as part of CASEL’s Collaborating District 
Initiative to share how some of these districts have 
approached SEL implementation and provide insight 
on their successes and remaining challenges. For 
more on the Collaborating Districts Initiative, please 
visit www.casel.org/cdi-results 


Ready to Lead 49 


Appendix IV 

Additional Graphs and Tables 

Principals hold mixed views on SEL accountability. 

■ Definitely true ■ Probably true ■ Definitely not true ■ Probably not true 


Teachers should be held accountable for students’ developments of social and emotional skills 




Hold teachers 
accountable 

Schools should be 
rated on SEL skills 

Elementary School 

51% 

42% 

Middle/junior high 

49% 

47% 

High school 

45% 

44% 


Urban 

60% 

56% 

Suburban 

50% 

43% 

Small town/rural 

40% 

35% 



Hold teachers 
accountable 

Schools should be 
rated on SEL skills 

High implementation 

73% 

70% 

Moderate 

implementation 

47% 

42% 

Low implementation 

36% 

30% 


Believe SEL can 
be measured 

60% 

54% 

Don’t believe SEL 
can be measured 

25% 

21% 


Those who have more experience with SEL are more likely to believe it 
should be part of state standards. 

■ Definitely should be ■ Probably should be ■ Definitely should NOT be ■ Definitely should NOT be 

Do you believe that the development of social and emotional skills should be explicitly stated in your state’s 
education standards? 


25% 48% 18% 9% 



Definitely 
should be 

Probably 
should be 

Should 

NOT be 


Definitely 
should be 

Probably 
should be 

Should 
NOT be 

Elementary School 

29% 

47% 

24% 

High implementation 

43% 

42% 

15% 

Middle/junior high 

17% 

49% 

34% 

Moderate 

24% 

52% 

24% 

High school 

17% 

52% 

31% 

implementation 

Low implementation 

13% 

49% 

38% 


Urban 

36% 

43% 

21% 


Believe SEL can 
be measured 




Suburban 

27% 

57% 

16% 

30% 

49% 

21% 

Small town/rural 

14% 

48% 

38% 

Don’t believe SEL 

12% 

46% 

42% 


can be measured 


50 Ready to Lead 





















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